St. Xavier’s Parish, Navrangpura, Ahmedabad, has 634 families residing in the western side of the city. Built on St. Xavier’s College Campus in 2001, it has an attractive church whose distinctive hallmark is the aesthetic Risen Christ with an Indian resonance to it and a welcoming gesture that attracts people to pray. An interesting facet is also the word “Navrangpura” means a complete spectrum of 9 colours and it coincidentally matches the nine ethnic communities that constitute the parish.
Kochi: Craze for territorial expansion of the Syro Malabar Church (SMC)
has always been an unpleasant topic of heated discussion, more private
than public, for years.
The tug of war has always been between the laity who oppose it tooth and
nail and clergy who promote it with boiling zeal saying to Latin
bishops: “We produce 70 percent of clergy in the Church, but we control
only about 0.04 percent of the territory. We are justified in wanting
more territory,” reportedly said by one of the Syro Malabar bishops.
This territorial expansion, called “religious colonization” by critics,
is seen realized to a great extend and making good progress, in the
creation of Eparchies in Bombay (Kalyan), Delhi (Faridabad, recently),
Syro-Malabar (SM) Dioceses in Chicago and Melbourne.
It all started in the 1960s when the SMC was confined to the boundaries of tiny Kerala state.
Its first attempt was to expand in India beyond Kerala borders, first to
establish SM parishes all over India, where SM Catholics are found in
great numbers, on the plea that it has to cater to their spiritual needs
through their home-grown SM liturgy. As the number of SM parishes
increased in a region or metropolitan city, the next logical step was to
coax Rome to sanction an SM diocese.
Thus there is any number of SM parishes being created in Chennai and
Bangalore and organized efforts are on, to get more SM dioceses
Since SM priests, Brothers and Sisters are well known for their
missionary zeal to serve the poor and marginalized in harsh
circumstances, they are most cordially welcomed by all Latin dioceses
all over India.
But when it comes to granting autonomous SM parishes or dioceses, the
vast majority both laity and clergy were found to be against. In fact an
elderly missionary Kerala priest now in his 80s and still actively
holding an important spiritual office in Chennai told this writer:
“James, please do not punish us with a Syro Malabar diocese.”
It was due to pleas like him, also from Catholic Association leaders in
Chennai and other well meaning leaders, that I started writing on this
thorny unpleasant Church politics. Being a journalist, they were
telling: “James, please write a few articles, highlighting many wrongs
to be corrected for which we shall provide you proof.”
Faith crowds or Rite colonies?
In response, the first article I wrote was in 2011 titled: SMC in US:
Faith crowds or Rite colonies? The rather long article started off
nut-shelling its contents as: “Church is fellowship not groupism; to
rule is to serve, not lording it over; evangelisation is not
colonisation; harvesting of souls isn’t cultivating churches
(Pallikrishi) for reaping dollars ($ Koithu); cross is for crucifying
self not others; any Rite is all right to pray.” (To read full text visi
my website: http://sites.google.com/site/jameskottoorspeaking/)
Besides when an opinion survey was taken in the l970s in the Chennai
Pastoral council all were unanimous in welcoming Kerala priests to work
in parishes but 9 percent opposed creating SM parishes.
Similar was the result of a 2002 survey in Delhi: while 12 percent of
SMC Catholics wanted a separate diocese 75 percent opposed it, with the
rest remaining neutral.
So hard facts clearly indicate that the rush to create SM dioceses,
whether in India or abroad, is spearheaded and steamrolled by the Syro
Malabar bishops only. They are now in the third stage of territorial
expansion, namely creation of SM dioceses outside India, in Chicago and
the latest in Melbourne, Australia, then in Europe and the middle east.
Unfortunately this territorial expansion is creating divisions within
its own fold and among locals outside Kerala, in India or abroad.
Definitely this is in direct conflict with the views and pronouncements
of Pope Francis himself: “The divisions among us Christians are a
scandal. There is no other word: a scandal,” he had said recently.
He is also reported to have said: ‘A bishop who casts his eyes beyond
the borders of his diocese to another is an adulterer hankering for the
neighbor’s wife.’ Being airport-bishops they definitely can’t have the
smell of the sheep.
And recall what he had to say lately on converting people: “Don’t
proselytize; respect others’ beliefs, was one of the “10 tips to
happiness” he gave recently.
“We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in
communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism,
which paralyses: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No.
Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The
Church grows by attraction, not proselytising,” the Pope had said.
In saying so Francis Pappa literally exposed the hollowness and fears of
many peddlers of “Anti-conversion Laws” in India who see daemons
lurking where none exists.
After all Francis was only repeating what Apostle Paul said long ago:
“Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the good news”
(1Cor.l, 17). It only shows how a hierarchical, pyramidal church of the
day modelled on emperors like Constantine, in whose vision the highly
placed lord over the lowly placed, has strayed too far away from the
ideals of equality, fraternity, fellowship and brotherhood of all,
taught by Jesus, more by his deeds than words.
To come back to Explosion in Delhi, it was triggered by a recent joined
pastoral (JP) dated November 1, 2013 of bishops of Delhi and Eparchy of
Faridabad transferring all Catholics of Syro Malabar ancestry, without
either consulting them or getting their consent, to Faridabad. The
relevant part of the JP signed by the two bishops reads:
“From the day the Eparchy of Faridabad was created in 2012 all the
Syro-Malabar faithful once pastorally cared for by the Archdiocese of
Delhi have automatically become part of the Eparchy which has been
exclusively created for them. Basically, there is no choice in this
matter. Consequently the faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church cease to be
members of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Delhi; they can continue
their participation in parish related organizations (such as Catholic
Association, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Youth Movements, Charismatic
Renewal) etc.) through a corresponding group in their Syro-Malabar
parish. Any exception to this norm will have to be addressed to the
bishop of the Eparchy of Faridabad who in turn will apprise the
Archbishop of Delhi on the appropriate course of action according to
Yes “Basically, there is no choice in this matter.” This forced the
boiling pot of rule by Diktats, not consultation; explode with outbursts
from a major section of the vocal laity.
If “Good governance is critically dependent on rule of law,
participatory decision-making, transparency, responsiveness,
accountability, equity and inclusiveness,” (Indian President on 68th
Independence day) is what a demanded in a civil society, a religious
society called Church which claims to be more civilized should exhibit
these traits in greater measure.
In Delhi, those who oppose this transfer of faithful by Diktat is led by an organized lay group called Laity4unity (Contact email@example.com. +9811004214, for more information) who claim to have a signed up membership of 6000 Catholics.
Catholics of SM ancestry in Delhi are estimated at about 25,000. Their
relentless efforts to dialogue with bishops and Nuncios, they say, have
failed miserably – most of the time their petitions have been
slightingly ignored, they say.
So as a last-ditch effort they have sent to Pope Francis a well
documented 155-page petition (this scribe has a copy of it for those who
wish to see) by FedEx on May 24, feast of Mary Help of Christians. It was received in the Papal office on May 27.
The independent reports in the Hindu given below are the result of the
explosive clergy-laity tussle in Syromalabar Church in Delhi to get the
JP cancelled. It is an eloquent Sign of the Times that calls upon all to
reflect and get ready for a long drawn-out war of words for a peaceful
The Hindu, NEW DELHI, August 8, 2014
Syro-Malabar Catholics oppose transfer to new Eparchy
Pheroze L. Vincent
Many have lost touch with Malayalam, and unlike the Latin rite, which
conducts services in several languages, the Syro-Malabar Church services
are in Malayalam.
A section of Catholic Christians in the capital have opposed the
church’s move to shift them to the newly created Syro-Malabar Eparchy of
Faridabad. The Syro-Malabar Church (SMC), headquartered in Ernakulam,
is one of the 22 Oriental Churches that maintain distinct rites of
worship within the Catholic Church. A distinct eparchy — a religious
administrative jurisdiction for the SMC in northern India — was created
in 2012. It was officially “erected” in Faridabad so that it would not
be confused with the Latin rite Archdiocese of Delhi, which caters to
Catholics only in Delhi and parts of U.P. and Haryana.
Opposition to the new body came after a joint pastoral letter signed by
the Archbishops of Delhi and Faridabad in November 2013 transferred the
membership of the 24,000-odd SMC Catholics in Delhi to the new Faridabad
eparchy from their respective parishes in the Latin rite archdiocese.
Although, these families trace their roots to SMC ancestors in Kerala,
several of them have settled in Delhi for decades and are more familiar
with the Latin rites. Most of the children have lost touch with
Malayalam and, unlike the Latin rite, which conducts services in several
languages, SMC services are only in Malayalam.
An official survey among Delhi’s Catholics in 2002 recorded that only 12
per cent of SMC Catholics wanted a separate diocese and 75 per cent of
them wanted freedom of choice in choosing the rite of worship. The
dissenters, who have also invested in the Latin rite archdiocese by
virtue of their contributions in building the community, banded together
to form the “Syro-Malabar Faithful of Delhi Archdiocese” — to oppose
“Priests are confused and SMC children, who are of age to join
preparatory classes for sacraments of communion and confirmation, are
being prevented. Few months ago, a man had to fly back from Kerala a
night before his wedding to get a ‘status libre’ clearance from an SMC
parish priest in Delhi as the letter from his regular parish priest was
not valid,” said Kurien Joseph, former editor of catholic newsletter
Voice of Delhi .
The dissenters approached Latin Archbishop Anil Couto, the Catholic
Bishops Conference of India, and the Apostolic Nuncio — the ambassador
of the Vatican to India Salavatore Pennachio — to have the decision
overturned but were not successful. Finally they petitioned the Pope in
May this year to withdraw the edict.
Many have lost touch with Malayalam and, unlike the Latin rite, which
conducts services in several languages, Syro Malabar services are only
Another report in the Hindu of August 11 titled : Caste card crops up in church tussle, by the same author reads:
The Hindu had reported on Friday
that a group of Roman Catholic Christians, currently members of the
Archdiocese, had petitioned the Pope to annul the Joint Pastoral Letter
of 2013 that transferred them to the Oriental Eparchy, created in 2012.
The petitioners — who are early migrants from Kerala to the Capital —
complained that multiple spiritual jurisdictions were creating practical
problems in conducting marriages and baptisms. They also claimed that
the Oriental Church promoted dowry and segregation of the sexes. In
response to the report, the Eparchy’s Public Relations Officer Sajo
Padayattil claimed that the opposition to the transfer was casteist.
“Apparently, this group (which wrote to the Vatican) does not want it
because they want to be the “elite” in the Latin Church in Delhi and
once they return to their homeland Kerala, they do not want to be seen
belonging to Latin Church, which is considered there as OBC (Other
Backward Community). Once in Kerala, they want to be the “aristocratic”
Syro-Malabars,” he wrote.
Addressing the objection of the petitioners that services in the
Eparchy’s parishes were only in Malayalam, which most of their children
do not understand, Fr. Padayattil said:
“In Karol Bagh Forane Church, in Dwarka Church, in Noida Church and in
Mayur Vihar, we have services in English and Hindi. For the youth,
Masses and Jesus Youth Services are conducted in English or Hindi.”
Interestingly, the Eparchy has not denied the accusations of dowry and
segregation, nor has it countered a church-supervised survey among
Delhi’s Catholics in 2002 which recorded that only 12 per cent of SM
Catholics wanted a separate diocese.
One of the petitioners to the Pope, Kurien Jospeh, who is the former
editor of Catholic journal Voice of Delhi , termed the SM Church’s move
as “ghetto-ization”. “
The entire history of this Church, as well as its attitude even today is
to look down with contempt on what it calls “Latins” in Kerala. This
latent caste system actively nurtured by the SM Church has led to deep
resentment among Latins. This apartheid is solely of the SM Church’s
making,” he told this paper.
“Growing up in a cosmopolitan city like Delhi, Malayalee Catholics,
those who have been here for decades or who have been born here, have no
concept of any distinction between “Syrian” and “Latin”, much less
about superior and inferior,” he added.
The petitioners have met the Vatican’s Ambassador Salvatore Pennacchio
and the Latin Archdiocese has ordered a status quo on the transfer after
it became a diplomatic affair.
Members of the Archdiocese of Delhi had petitioned the Pope to annul
Joint Pastoral Letter of 2013 that transferred them to the Oriental
Eparchy; currently there is a status quo on the transfer.”
Vexing Inter-Rite Issues
Problems created by SMC in Kerala by its insistence for a “free status”
certificate from SM parish headquarters in the region who does not know
the person, and not from parish priests of his/her residence who knows
them, and demanding a fee as exorbitant as 10,000 rupees for it in one
instance, were the proofs, this writer was provided with by People in
Chennai, for writing articles. Of course such things could have been
very rare incidents, but they did happen.
“Ghetto Catholicism” – a contradiction in terms since Catholic means
universal – was something plaguing the Catholic Church ever since the
Constantenean era up to Pope John XXIII who opened the windows to the
whole world with the Vatican II. This scribe used to write to jerk it
out of its “Ghetto Catholicism” some 40 years ago as editor of New
Leader in Chennai.
Finally the practice of looking down on the whole lot of laity like
Sudras at the bottom of the Hierarchical ladder, good only to be ordered
around by a superior class called clergy is an attitude prevalent in
all sections of the Catholic Church, especially in the SMC.
Just because the word “laity” has acquired this low-caste connotation,
today they call themselves “Church Citizens,” based on “You are citizen
like all the saints and part of God’s household” (Eph.2.19) and the
constant Papal exhortation for equality.
Example is: Almayasabdam Blog from Palai, started as the “Voice of the Laity”, now calls itself the “Voice of Church Citizens”.
Delhi developments send out the roaring message that Laity in the Church
in India has come of age. It is foolish to expect them to settle for
anything less than their birth right to be “Church Citizens” equal to
anyone in the Church, whether Pope or pauper, as exhorted repeatedly by
word and example by Pappa Francis himself.