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The Syro-Malabar Family in the 21st Century
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Posted by: reviewassessor, on 8/1/2009, in category "General News & Articles"
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Abstract: Knowing our history and where we derive our spiritual heritage, I have noticed that these same traditions are alive today with every Syro-Malabar Catholic. The traditions of a close-knit family, the family being the first church; for the children where they learn about their faith and traditions, the celebration of the Holy Qurbana of the Syro-Malabar Church, the pursuit to organize the community for both spiritual and physical growth of the individual and community, the pursuit to prayer life, and our particular expression of Jesus Christ through our Syro-Malabar traditions are all inherent in us. We are Catholics, but most importantly, we are Syro-Malabar Catholics.

The Syro-Malabar Family in the 21st Century

By: Abin Kuriakose (Cathedral Parish, Chicago)

It is exciting to be a Syro-Malabar Catholic in the 21st century. The first Syro-Malabar Church in the Persian Gulf was consecrated in Doha, Qatar on May 22nd. It is now the new hope of the Syro-Malabar migrants in the Gulf region. The Syro-Malabar Commission for Liturgy approved in 2008 the Marathi and Gujarathi translation of certain prayers and the whole Qurbana for the Syro-Malabar Catholics of North India. The first Syro-Malabar Cathedral outside of India was consecrated last July 2008 by His Beatitude Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Vithayathil – who called the Cathedral ,the crown jewel of the Syro-Malabar Church. More dioceses are being established outside of Kerala. In our own Chicago Diocese, the number of parishes have doubled. Syro-Malabar communities in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland are flourishing celebrating Holy Qurbanas on a regular basis and hosting community celebrations for feast days, Christmas, and Easter. Syro-Malabar Catholics are all over the world through the providence and blessings of the Jesus Christ and our father-in-faith St. Thomas.

Our apostolic church is expanding and growing through the providence of God, and this is natural growth ; a growth with the purpose of strengthening and retaining our spiritual heritage. Our growth and expansion is truly a divine gift because not many Eastern Catholic Churches enjoy such a privilege. For example: the Ukrainian-Byzantine Catholic Church has over 30 dioceses around the world from Ukraine, Poland, Argentina, the United States, and others. Over 50% of their dioceses are outside of Ukraine. This is due to the exodus of Ukrainian Catholics after World War II and the rise of the Soviet Union. Their expansion was due to historical events and difficult situations. A particular gift the Ukrainian-Byzantine Church enjoys is their strong ties with the Ukrainian culture and the Mother Church for the past 50 years.

The expansion of the Syro-Malabar Church is a more recent phenomenon due to new economic trends in India and the forces of globalization. The Syro-Malabar Catholics in the United States have organized our communities into missions, missions into parishes, and by the grace of God and the will of the Holy See ; parishes into a new diocese. All this organization and the pursuit of maintaining our spiritual heritage is a key characteristic of the Syro-Malabar Catholics in the 21st Century. Through my personal observations here in the Chicago and of other Syro-Malabar migrants outside of Kerala – I have listened and seen the divine work of the Heavenly Father among our community, which holds ancient roots but always refreshed and rejuvenated.

Many of us know the history of our Christian community. St. Thomas the Apostle arrived on the Malabar Coast in 52 A.D. and was martyred on July 3rd 72 AD. The first to be converted by St. Thomas were Hindu Brahmin families and Migrant Jews from Jerusalem who fled Israel after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. St. Thomas preached in the synagogues, temples, and households. Portuguese Bishops wrote in their memoirs the miracles that were attributed to St. Thomas, which is historical in line with the miracles conducted by St. Peter and other apostles after Pentecost. The community of St. Thomas Christians lived under traditions of a strong family, vibrant prayer, and sacrifice. History tells us the original St. Thomas Christians had an army of the thousands! Many artifacts and historical evidence of the St. Thomas Christians are kept in the St. Thomas Museum located in the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Curia or Mount St. Thomas, Kakkanad-Kochin. It was through existing trade routes with Chaldea (or modern day Iraq) that we gained a relationship with the Church of the East or the Chaldean Church. After learning that a Christian community exists in Southern India, they sent their own Bishops to teach and care for the faithful. Through those Bishops, we acquired the East-Syrian liturgical tradition & celebrating the Holy Qurbana of Mar Addai & Mari. After the arrival of Vasco De Gama in the 1700s, the Syro-Malabar Church and Liturgy included elements of Judaism, Hinduism, Indian culture, and Latin Rite traditions. We are one of the most unique Eastern Churches of the Catholic tradition.

Knowing our history and where we derive our spiritual heritage, I have noticed that these same traditions are alive today with every Syro-Malabar Catholic. The traditions of a close-knit family, the family being the first church; for the children where they learn about their faith and traditions, the celebration of the Holy Qurbana of the Syro-Malabar Church, the pursuit to organize the community for both spiritual and physical growth of the individual and community, the pursuit to prayer life, and our particular expression of Jesus Christ through our Syro-Malabar traditions are all inherent in us. We are Catholics, but most importantly, we are Syro-Malabar Catholics.

These traditions are still alive with the Syro-Malabar Church and especially the Syro-Malabar Migrants of the 21st century. Today we see more and more Syro-Malabar Migrants organizing and participating in the Holy Qurbana whenever they can and wherever they are. In the Chicago diocese, we have a program I like to call shuttle pastoral care. ; We have many U.S. cities where a group of 100 or less Syro-Malabar families lives in a common neighborhood or regional area, for example, Louisville, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina. Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath takes special initiative to send clergy to these various locations once or twice a month to celebrate the Holy Qurbana and spend time with the families. So wherever you may be, Syro-Malabar migrants in America are now more than ever able to celebrate the Holy Qurbana and organize into communities. These small communities eventually become missions and within years, parishes. Through these special efforts, our diocese reaches out to every Syro-Malabar Catholic in the United States and Canada.

Many do cast doubts in the process of organization and community-building. There are three factors involved: the family, the local community and its leaders, and the Bishop or coordinator-in-charge (a coordinator is assigned by the Major Archbishop and/or the Holy Synod). The family must be consistent to their spiritual heritage this means attending the Syro Malabar Qurbana every Sunday or at every opportunity given (many Syro-Malabar missions or small communities only celebrate the Holy Qurbana twice or three times a month). The children must engage in daily family prayer, and learn the basics of Syro-Malabar History and traditions. At the local community level, we need committed leaders who can organize and be pragmatic with the building of a Syro-Malabar community. ;Organization and structure is at the service of the mystery Jesus Christ"; quoted from Servant of God Pope John Paul II of Happy Memory from his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1995). Malayalees are proud people and often personal politics gets in the way of common good. All parish/mission/community leaders must strive to be humble and must always remember that they are at the service of the Church the mystical body of Christ. We don't run our communities like a business; we lead them and love them like a family. At the highest level Coordinator/Bishop or Diocese , the community and the people of God must always respect and be loyal to our ministers out of love and pastoral obedience. Let us always remember the Bishop is the successor of the Apostles, and it is a divine office in which they are working for. As we have a responsibility to our Bishop from personal duty and Eastern Catholic church (canon) law, His Excellency the Bishop has a divine responsibility in teaching the faith and watching over his flock. And of course our very own Mar Jacob is a bishop with an incredible prayer life and love for all families.

One of beautiful traits that the Syro-Malabar Youth possess is central to our personal beliefs: we don't do politics. We don't believe in personal power. We denounce anything related to those two factors. We find our parishes to be our second home and not a theater of drama. We take our responsibilities as Syro-Malabar Catholics and active parishioners very seriously. Through prayer, cooperation with the Bishop and Achans, involvement within our own parishes, and fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ , the youth will one day implement a new way of organization that will focus on the mission of evangelization and discipleship in Christ.

Life is a gift and a product of love and our faith is not a right but a gift from God. Our particular and ancient faith of Syro-Malabar is a gift with even more meaning. We are here as the children of God, to serve God and our community. This mission and vision is clear.

Our ancient traditions are being passed on from generation to generation with innovation. A new pursuit of the spiritual growth of a community, a new spirit of celebrating the thousand-year old Holy Qurbana of Mar Addai & Mari (the proper name of our liturgy) in the English language, and the strong stance of serving Christ and denouncing politics ; this is the new Syro Malabar.


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