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Syro-Malabar Church in US.

India, Feb. 20 -- For you I am a Bishop, but with you I am a Christian". That is how Bishop of Hippo St.

Augustine described himself and gave witness to Jesus who emptied himself to serve as "Emmanuel", God with us. Only the really exalted can come down and be really "with us" in every respect. One need not be religious or even a believer to do that. "I am your First Servant" was Nehru's way of bearing witness to that ideal, in his midnight speech.

In striking contrast, listen to the words of a saint to the Pope of his times: When you are dressed in glittering royal finery, holding a gilded sword and enthroned on a snow white horse "you represent, not the successor of Peter but of Constantine". St. Bernard is reported to have said it referring to the crusades. It was to correct this wrong life style and outlook that Pope John XXIII called the Vatican II precisely, "to sweep clean the dust of the empire accumulated on the throne of Peter, ever since the time of Constantine" and to carry on His healing ministry with the "medicine of mercy".

Has it helped much? It has and has not. When authoritarian life style is enforced Jesus gets out or gets evicted. That is what happened when the 115-year-old St. Joseph's Hospital in Phoenix, Ariz., in the US, was denied its Catholic status and its administrator Sr. Margaret Mary was excommunicated for terminating an 11-week-old pregnancy, to save the life of the mother. "Just days before Christians celebrated Christmas. Jesus got evicted," wrote a columnist in National Catholic Reporter, since excommunication meant denial of celebration of Mass and sacramental presence in the Hospital chapel.

A columnist in NY times (26/1/11) saw in it a rulebook bishop sacrificing man for Sabbath.

Public opinion, national and international, came in like high rise waves in support of the Hospital and the Sister, as in the case in India for Dr. Binayak Sen, physician and human right activist sentenced to life imprisonment.

Religious and secular press was rife with shrill criticisms of the Bishop. The US Bishops' Conference saw it as an internal matter of a diocese and kept a diplomatic silence. Thus the Bishop targeted was really made to feel the heat.

This is just to highlight how bishops in any church get isolated and estranged for not feeling "one with" the flock.

Claver Cross Controversy Here we are concerned with a similar crisis raging, not in the Latin Church, but in the Syro- Malabar Church (SMC) in USA.

It all started with whether to have in their churches a cross with or without the figure of the dead Jesus. Some call the one without, claver cross, Persian cross, Chaldean cross or Manichean cross.

The target of bitter attack here is Bishop Jacob Angadiath. The crucified on the cross alone is the source of grace and salvation and the claver cross without the figure of Jesus is the devil's cross for the critics.

Actually a more meaningful approach for both laity and hierarchy would be to go for neither the claver cross nor the cross with a dead Jesus but a cross with the Risen Lord, if they wanted to proclaim to the world what they were expected to believe. It is not in the dead Jesus but in the Risen Lord they are to put their faith in because if Jesus did not rise from the dead, vain is their faith as St. Paul says. At least in the chapel of the Sisters of Adoration (on Old Railway Station Road, Ernakulam), we find such a cross and similar crosses are mushrooming all over the world. It also helps those unfamiliar with Christianity to see that Christians are not worshipers of a dead God.

Coppell Cross Conflict The SMC in the US may have to go a long way to reach that level of enlightened liturgical life. So the fight, at their level of understanding, led to coming to blows at the consecration of the new St. Alphonsa's Church built at Coppell, Texas, last December 19. The tug of war, for and against the claver cross and curtain, was between the parish priest and the bishop who were backed by a bitterly divided parish community, all due to an alleged adamant lead their flock by example, not by force. He stressed the urgency of bringing out the undercurrents causing the present turmoil to get the Kerala hierarchy moving. One of them reportedly is the craze of some priests to start a new Coppell- based diocese to test their luck for an Episcopal throne.

What is happening?

So what is happening to the SMC community or crowd in Chicago in USA? A community of prayer (think of the cenacle) has one mind and heart, a crowd has many heads but not one mind.

It is the latter, a crowd, that exists here. A little history before going into that. America is a nation of migrants and continues to welcome best brains from everywhere.

SMC claims to be a migrating Church. It started cultivating its migrating instinct long ago, first expanding to find greener pastures in Malabar regions and high ranges in Kerala itself.

Second stage of its migration was to get firm foot-holds in major cities outside Kerala like Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. Kalyan diocese was its first achievement. Two more dioceses, in Chennai and Bangalore, are eagerly awaited, according to their website. The third stage of their migration plan is now being played out in full earnest in USA.

Since most of the Syro-Malabar (SM) Christians are farmers, this activity of the church is known here as the business of Cultivating Churches. The official explanation is that Pastors are following wherever their flock has wandered or migrated in order to minister to them. It is common knowledge how in l960s and 70s nurses from Kerala started flooding the US, followed by their less educated parents. The latter group (parents) always longed for spiritual solace in their mother tongue itself.

Sponsors and promoters catering to the spiritual craving of this less educated minority, call it evangelisation at its very best since Kerala has an oversupply of priests and religious too eager to fill the shortage especially in US. Critics call it spiritual or religious colonisation indulged in by all churches, especially by the three competing Rites in the Kerala Church, to use their bases in US as service stations or milking cows for their parent Churches in Kerala. All political parties and other religions also have such bases here.

First SM Garland Church Cutting the long story short, following the spadework done by the chairman for pastoral care for migrants, the bishop of Palai sent Fr. Jacob Angadiath (now SMC stand of the bishop against relaxing a controversial rule on claver cross.

It caused passions on both sides to run riot and police protection had to be sought to conduct the consecration of the new parish church. Its 240 families had raised most of $25 lakhs - to purchase the premises from a different Christian denomination and construct it. But finally the faction totally opposed to claver cross and curtain had their way at Coppell.

Distressed at such happenings, Fr. A. Adappoor SJ, a noted scholar and writer in Malayalam quoted the words of St. Augustine with which I started this article, to draw the attention especially of SMC bishops on the need to bishop in Chicago) in 1984 to Dallas to help out at St. Pius X church, then as assistant at St. Michael's at Garland. During this time, he took a Masters in Theology from Dallas University in l995. He organised a SM mission and started St. Thomas Church for the local SM faithful at Garland in 1997 which stood out from the rest for its claver cross and altar curtain.

In the meantime, thanks to the work of the Commission for migrants and Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil's visit and recommendation to Rome, the SM community in Chicago led by Fr. Antony Kurialacherry approached the then Cardinal Bernadin who freely and generously handed over the then parish of St. Chrysostom to the SM community in 1987 and Bishop Joseph Pallickaparambil of Palai officially inaugurated it as a SM mission.

That mission really flourished and grew to become the present Cathedral parish with the erection of the first SM diocese outside India and the Episcopal ordination of Bishop Jacob Angadiath on July 1, 2001 as its first bishop with jurisdiction all over US and as permanent apostolic visitor of SM Catholics in Canada.

Fr. Antony Thundathil MST was appointed as the first Cathedral parish priest on May 18, 2001 and continues to complete his 10th year next May.

Mar Thoma Sleeha SM Cathedral Under his leadership, the Cathedral Parish, now known as Mar Thoma Sleeha Syro Malabar Catholic Cathedral of Chicago, 5000 St. Charles Rd, Belwood, IL., grew by leaps and bounds to today's strength of 1,200 families.

He started the reconstruction of the Church on October 28, 2006 and inaugurated the new Cathedral church with a capacity to seat over 1,000, at a cost of around $11 million on July 5, 2008. It is now humming with manifold spiritual and social activities.

The SM Diocese in US today has a team of 45 priests working in 23 parishes and 35 mission stations spread in places like Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Dallas, Detroit, Huston, Las Vegas, lems and possibilities, agonies and ecstasies. The Syro-Malabar Church has more than its fair share. The completion of the $11 million Cathedral church and $2.5 million Bishop's House instead of uniting, divided the parish crowd into two fighting factions, due to alleged mismanagement of funds and unavailability of publicly audited accounts. In the absence of a congenial community forum to air grievances and find solutions a section of the vocal group resorted to making wild allegations to the whole world through a website.

That prompted the defenders of faith, to start theirs in defence.

The Masthead of the most vocal group is written in Malayalam.

It reads: Syro-Malabar Voice.

"Keep Faith, Inform the Faithful, expose Clergy Abuse and Arrogance - this is our Mission."

"According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which It is common knowledge how in l960s and 70s nurses from Kerala started flooding the US, followed by their less educated parents.

The latter group (parents) always longed for spiritual solace in their mother tongue itself Miami, San Francisco, Toronto, Phoenix and Washington DC. Of these, 4 parishes and 15 mission stations belong to Knanaya group.

So it may not be long before a Kottayam diocese sprouts up in the US too. The SMC is made up of around 9,500 families as in their website. In 2001, SMC had only 2 parishes, 16 missions and 20 worship centres, while Knananites had 9 missions. The claver cross and altar curtain are bones of contention only for SMC, not for Knananites.

Any organisation, as it grows up, is bound to have its own probthe laity possess, they have the right, and even at times the duty, to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence towards their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons - Canon 212:3."

(It can be accessed at: http://syromalabarvoice.

blogspot.com) To fight against this avalanche of venom poured out on bishops, priests and religious, often in in decent, vulgar language, another modest group led by the principle: "Pray, Pay and Obey" started their website which looks very simple, humble and pious. Its Masthead is in English but its objectives, given in Malayalam, are rendered in English below.

It reads: Syro-Malabar Faith "We will be publishing almost all of your articles. Send your articles as comments. It is not our wish to paint anyone black. We publish historical truths and authoritative studies about the church." )It can be accessed at: http://syromalabarfaith.

blogspot.com) In both websites - voice.blog and faith.blog -- most of the contributions are in Malayalam, only very few in English, perhaps innot understood by general public.

Bishops and priests targeted suffer in silence due to a staggering dearth of charismatic leaders among both clergy and laity. Anyone can go through the websites to double-check the veracity of these statements.

What are their Complaints?

Besides the claver cross they are up in arms against things like: the red curtain covering the altar; priests saying Mass with their backs to the people; enormous length of Malayalam Mass (Rassa); the practice of filling up Diocesan Boards, Parish Councils, Family Prayer groups at ward levels with nominees and "Yes-men" of clergy, not elected by the faithful; priests collecting money for believed they have already filed it. Besides they clamour for good priests from various dioceses of Kerala and expulsion of tainted ones in their sight. Such pressure is cited as reason for sending back to Kerala last month two priests, one who was Chancellor for the last seven years and another, the Parish Priest of Coppell. According to reports, out of the 8,000 envelops sent asking for donations only some 600 returned. In the Cathedral parish, of 1,200 reportedly only below 100 responded.

Faith-blog denies it.

Something is definitely rotten in the land of Denmark. For the last two years, this scribe had been receiving frequent requests from respectable Catholic association people and elderly priests in Chennai to write about unrest and heart-ache created there by some of the promoters of Syro-Malabar Rite raising funds to build SM churches and demanding up to Rs. 10,000 for a Free status certificate for marriage, in this case, for the nephew of a venerable priest.

I remember writing an editorial: ANY RITE IS ALLRIGHT in New Leader some 40 years ago trying to rein in the craze for spreading one's Rite rather than the good news of Jesus, who preached and practised human brotherhood presenting himself as the SON OF MAN. After all what was Jesus? A Jew or Christian? Some say there was only one good Jew and he was a Christian. Some say, there was only one good Christian and he was a Jew. But Friedrich Nietzsche said: There was only one Christian, he died on the cross! Any suggestions, how to move forward? In any case the words of the Bishop of Hippo are the challenge thrown at the SMC Bishops. The need is not Faith crowds or Rite colonies but humane communities that pray together, stay together and grow together loving and serving one another with or without churches of brick and mortar. Possible?

The need is not Faith crowds or Rite colonies but humane communities that pray together, stay together and grow together loving and serving one another with or without churches of brick and mortar dicative of their level of education.

In both the blogs the Web masters hide themselves. Imitating them, 98% of contributors write under the title: "Anonymous said": and indulge in wild and baseless allegations and unproved claims.

The Voice.blog is an extreme example of brutal clergy-bashing and yellow journalism. I thought the unkindest cut our Kerala bishops got was "detestable creatures" from Pinarayi Vijayan. I was sorely mistaken. It is from their own so called "faithful" they are getting the worst. These are a vocal, rightly or wrongly, disgruntled crowd bent on bringing the Syro-Malabar to zero in US, as their announced aim. Fortunately their craze for washing the dirty linen of SMC in public is done mostly in Malayalam and so Mass and other spiritual services rendered as they like and getting gifts without any fixed rule; lack of fixed tenure for parish priests and church administrators; alleged mismanagement of church funds and refusal to present audited accounts even after requests; indulging in "building business"to promote claver-cross parishes and to enrich one's own kith and kin with bungalows or rubber estates in Kerala, instead of building up Faith communities in Jesus.

In an act of economic blockade, the Voice.blog first appealed to all SM families not to contribute more than one or two dollars in Sunday collections. As a second step they have been threatening for long to file a suit against the bishop and priests on various counts. If their blog dated February 5 is to bebelieved they have already filed it. Besides they clamour for good priests from various dioceses of Kerala and expulsion of tainted ones in their sight. Such pressure is cited as reason for sending back to Kerala last month two priests, one who was Chancellor for the last seven years and another, the Parish Priest of Coppell. According to reports, out of the 8,000 envelops sent asking for donations only some 600 returned. In the Cathedral parish, of 1,200 reportedly only below 100 responded.

Faith-blog denies it.

Something is definitely rotten in the land of Denmark. For the last two years, this scribe had been receiving frequent requests from respectable Catholic association people and elderly priests in Chennai to write about unrest and heart-ache created there by some of the promoters of Syro-Malabar Rite raising funds to build SM churches and demanding up to Rs. 10,000 for a Free status certificate for marriage, in this case, for the nephew of a venerable priest.

I remember writing an editorial: ANY RITE IS ALLRIGHT in New Leader some 40 years ago trying to rein in the craze for spreading one's Rite rather than the good news of Jesus, who preached and practised human brotherhood presenting himself as the SON OF MAN. After all what was Jesus? A Jew or Christian? Some say there was only one good Jew and he was a Christian. Some say, there was only one good Christian and he was a Jew. But Friedrich Nietzsche said: There was only one Christian, he died on the cross! Any suggestions, how to move forward? In any case the words of the Bishop of Hippo are the challenge thrown at the SMC Bishops. The need is not Faith crowds or Rite colonies but humane communities that pray together, stay together and grow together loving and serving one another with or without churches of brick and mortar. Possible?

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 20, 2011
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