The Fulfillment of a Cherished Dream

by the Rev. Dr. Varghese Ottathengil

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About 16 years ago, a dedicated priest moved into a poor village in northern Kerala, a southwestern state of India. The priest was very pious, energetic and earnest. He visited the poor, the elderly, the sick, loving each person regardless of caste or creed. Fond of children, this simple man of God encouraged them in their studies. His prayerful life, simplicity and humility impressed the villagers, none of whom were Catholic. Gradually a number of people requested baptism and were received into the church.

From among the village’s many children a high school boy of significant character expressed the desire to become a priest. He entered the minor seminary and later enrolled at St. Mary’s Syro-Malankara Seminary, located in the state capital of Trivandrum.

In another rural area of Kerala, there was a young man who, after completing his college and graduate studies, approached his parish priest to discuss future opportunities. The priest noted the youth’s sincerity and spoke with him about the fullness of a life dedicated to God and church. The priest invited the young man to make a retreat to discern his vocation further. After prayer and reflection, the young man decided to enter St. Mary’s Seminary.

For each of the nearly 200 students enrolled at St. Mary’s, an interdiocesan institution serving the Syro-Malankara Catholic Archdiocese of Trivandrum and its suffragan sees of Tiruvalla and Bathery, there is a unique vocation story.

A seminary had been the cherished desire of the Syro-Malankara Catholic hierarchy since its establishment in September 1930, when two Malankara Syrian Orthodox bishops, Mar Ivanios and Mar Theophios, were received into the Catholic Church. For more than 50 years, Syro-Malankara candidates for priesthood were trained in Latin Catholic and Syro-Malabar Catholic seminaries. Although this improved the lines of communication among India’s various Catholic churches, the lack of a Syro-Malankara seminary inhibited the seminarians’ growth in the spirituality and liturgy of the Syro-Malankara tradition.

“A [Syro-Malankara] seminary is certainly necessary for the strengthening of this particular Catholic tradition,” writes Mar Joseph Powathil, Syro-Malabar Catholic Archbishop of Changanacherry and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. “But it will also contribute to a really Catholic sense of communion…by deepening one’s ecclesial sense and communion-awareness.”

“Formation in a spiritual tradition can never be a closed one like the formation for an ethnic group,” the Archbishop continues. “Proper ecclesial formation in a Catholic tradition can only promote preservation of unity in diversity.”

The Syro-Malankara is the newest of the Eastern Catholic churches. Although 20 September 1930 marks its canonical organization, the roots of this church, numbering more than 300,000 believers, may be traced to the evangelization of India by the Apostle Thomas in the first century A.D.

The establishment of a Syro-Malankara seminary was delayed for a variety of reasons: some critics were anxious about the huge expense that would accompany such a project, while others were concerned that it would render the students too parochial.

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Tags: Kerala Priests Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Vocations (religious) Seminaries