The Syro-Malabar Church, one of the Catholic Oriental Churches, was originally known as the Church of the St.Thomas Christians until the 18th century because it was founded by St Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ. St.Thomas came to India in 52 A.D. He died as a Martyr in a place called Mylapore near the present town of Chennai (Madras), where his tomb is still venerated.
As a Church that existed outside the Roman Empire, the Church of the St.Thomas Christians had little contact with the Roman or the other Churches within the Empire. At the same time it maintained communion with the Church of Rome through the Church in the Persian Empire, which later came to be known as the East Syrian or Chaldean or Babylonian Church. It seems that the Christians in India had contact with these Christians of the Persian Empire from very early times. Given the commercial relations of India of those days (which was then known as Malabar), such a contact was possible. The Bishops of the Malabar Church came from the Syriac-speaking Middle East, and thus the liturgical language of the Church became Syriac(Aramaic). The name Syro-Malabar is coined from the words, "Syriac" (the language) and Malabar (the region or location). The Syro-Malabar Church has always been in communion with Rome, the See of St. Peter, and his successors. This Apostolic Church has grown phenomenally, over the years, in all aspects. Because of the increased mobility of people many members of the Syro-Malabar Church migrated to other parts of India, and foreign countries. Though they remain members of the Syro-Malabar Church, they had little chance of following their own traditions in their life of faith because only the Latin Church existed in many of the lands they migrated to as U.S.A and Canada. As a result of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council there was an awakening both in the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church and in the faithful scattered all over the world about their own identity and about their duty to preserve and promote their tradition. The Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches or the Oriental Canon Law prescribes that these traditions be preserved and fostered. The promulgation of the new Oriental Canon Law in 1990 changed the course of the history of the Syro-Malabar Church. On December 16, 1992, Pope John Paul II declared the Syro- Malabar Church a Major Archiepiscopal Church and appointed Cardinal Mar Antony Padiyara, the then Archbishop of Ernakulam, its first Major Archbishop.
The Syro-Malabar Archiepiscopal Church, which has been described as "Christian in faith, Oriental in worship, and Indian in culture," is the second largest Oriental Catholic Church, with a membership of more than 3.5 million Catholics, of whom about 100,000 live in the United States and Canada. The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, erected the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago in 2001, with jurisdiction over the entire United States, and appointed Mar. Jacob Angadiath its first Bishop. He is also appointed the Permanent Apostolic Visitator to Canada. This newly erected diocese is the twenty-fifth Syro-Malabar Catholic diocese. The establishment of this new diocese is a mark of appreciation and recognition by the Holy See of the Syro-Malabar community's contribution to the Universal Church and to the world.
The Syro-Malabarians started migrating, in large numbers, to the United States in the 80&amp;amp;amp;rsquo;s. To practice their own liturgy, which is one of the oldest dating back to Mar Adai and Mar Mari, who were the disciples of St. Thomas, these immigrants started to gather together and celebrate the Holy Mass in several parts of New York, from 1985 onwards, with the help of visiting priests of their own rite from India. The dawn of the 90&amp;amp;amp;rsquo;s saw a renewed activity in the community. Several community groups assembled and pleaded with their local bishops (of the Latin Rite) to allow them to practice their own Liturgy. Three such communities, Floral Park, Elmont and Brooklyn, became the focal points of the Syro-Malabar activities.
Floral Park, Queens
Rev. Fr. Joseph Palakathadam, the then Associate Pastor of Our Lady of the Snows parish, Floral Park (Brooklyn diocese), formed a committee with Mr. Jose Madathikunnel as the coordinator. With the help of the then pastor of the parish, the late Rev. Fr. James Tugwood, and with the blessings of His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Thomas V. Daily (Bishop of Brooklyn), the community got the approval to have the Holy Mass celebrated in the Syro-Malabar Rite, for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Community living in the neighboring parishes in Queens, on the second Sunday of every month. The First Holy Mass in Syro-Malabar Rite was celebrated in Our Lady of the Snows Church on October 20, 1991. By the grace of God and by the selfless teamwork of the Committee, headed by Mr. Jose Madthikunnel, we were able to have the Syro-Malabar Mass every month without fail. During the early years, we had to get priests from other parishes. The following are the priests, who served us during their stay here:
1. Fr. Joseph Palakathadam
2. Fr. Joseph Kochupoovakottu
3. Fr. George Koikara
4. Fr. Mathew Kulapurathu
In 1997, Fr. Joseph Sauriamakal was appointed Associate Pastor of Our Lady the of Snows Church. He was of immense help to us. In 1998, Fr. Michael Nedumthurthel was appointed Associate Pastor in place of Fr. Joseph Sauriamakal. With a priest of our own rite in Our Lady of the Snows Church, we were able to get more support from the parish. With the help and patronage of the present Pastor, Rev. Msgr. Raymond F. Chappetto, the community grew in faith through the different activities.
Feast of Blessed Alphonsa: On February 8,1986, the whole Syro Malabar Church rejoiced when Pope John Paul II beatified one of our own, Sr. Alphonsa, at a ceremony in India. The community in Floral Park followed suit and started to celebrate the feast of Blessed Alphonsa, perhaps first in the whole of U.S.A. This prayerful event happens on the second Sunday of July, and attracts a large crowd from the Tri-State area.
Elmont, Long Island
In 1992, the Syro-Malabar community in Elmont, Long Island, met with the then pastor of St. Boniface Church, Elmont, Msgr .Peter Ryan, and requested him to allow them to have the Mass celebrated in the Syro-malabar Rite. The Pastor, with the approval of the diocese of Rockville Center, agreed to this and the Syro-Malabar Mass at Elmont was started, and has continued ever since. The Mass at Elmont is on the third Sunday of every month. Fr. Mathew Kottaram, the then Associate Pastor at Elmont, was responsible for this community from the start. He has catered to the community by fulfilling the spiritual needs of the community.
In addition to Easter, Christmas and St. Thomas Day celebrations and the other regular liturgical functions, the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady combined with the Indian Independence Day is celebrated with great festivities.
Guardian Angel Church, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Community of Guardian Angel Church, Brighton Beach, was started on a low note in September 1993 under the patronage of Fr. Paul Vazhappilly. The formation of this community and the commencement of liturgical services owe their existence to the benevolence and generosity of the Pastor of this church, Msgr. Perfecto Vasquez. For the past 10 years, the Syro-Malabar Mass was celebrated on the fourth Sunday of every month.
Besides the regular mass every month and the Christmas and Easter celebrations, the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle is celebrated with all pomp and splendor in pure Kerala style.
A Common Parish
The meeting of the elected representatives from the three Syro-Malabar Mission Centers in this area (Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island), presided over by His Excellency Mar Jacob Angadiath, on January 10, 2003, decided to work united to achieve the goal of a single parish. His Excellency agreed to provide us with a full-time priest and also to create a new parish for the Syro-Malabar communities in the dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Center. In fulfillment of these promises, on September 14, 2003, Rev. Dr. George Madathiparampil, Vicar General, announced the creation of the new parish. He also announced the appointment of Fr. Abraham Karott as the new vicar of the new Parish. It was decided to work as one parish with different centers for Mass on Sundays. Also it was decided to start CCD classes for the children. The new schedule went into effect from October 2003 onwards.
In a meeting of the members of the parish, under the leadership of Fr. Abraham Karott, on October 12, 2003, it was decided to name the parish St. Mary's Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. In this meeting the chairpersons and co-chairpersons of several committees were elected to streamline the activities of the new parish.
The formal inauguration of the new parish, by Mar Jacob Angadiath, the Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, took place on January 4, 2004, at St. Thomas the Apostle Chapel, West Hempstead.