By Mary DeTurris Poust
Indian Catholics in the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church will now have their own "home" in the United States. Pope Benedict XVI has established a new "exarchate" or diocese for this branch of the Eastern Catholic Church, whose world headquarters are in Kerala, India. Based on Long Island, within the boundaries of the Rockville Centre Diocese, the U.S. exarchate will be headed by Bishop Thomas Mar Eusebius and will provide pastoral care to the 10,000 Syro-Malankara Catholics living in this country, mainly in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
I wasn't really familiar with this Eastern branch of Catholicism until I read this story
in the Long Island Catholic and this column by Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre. Here's a piece of Bishop Murphy's column, which offers not only a history of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church but also a beautiful reflection on the unique qualities of its liturgies:
Indian Christian tradition has long held that the Apostle Thomas evangelized India before being martyred. Thus India claims true apostolic foundation from Thomas as Rome does from Peter and Paul. The "Thomas tradition" has been carried through the centuries with a liturgy that is the same Mass as we have in the Latin Church. Yet the liturgy has its own forms of prayer and ritual that reflect the Thomas tradition and the Indian context that these Churches have lived for as long as there has been Christianity in that country. Through the centuries, theological differences brought about some divisions. Both the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara exist side by side. Both are eastern Syrian, similar in theological tradition to the Maronites of Lebanon, but each maintains certain particular characteristics. A great and holy Bishop, Mar Ivanios, brought the small group of Syro-Malankara back into communion with the pope in 1930 and thus we have today the flourishing Syro-Malankara Church in South India with this new branch of the vine of Christ established here on Long Island for all the United States.
...There is a haunting beauty to this ancient liturgy. The chants are accompanied by bells and tympanis and various native instruments that, along with the vestments and the altar appointments, proclaim the Indian heritage of this ancient Catholic Church. It is not difficult for us westerners to follow the Divine Liturgy which has the same shape and the same elements of Word and Sacrament leading to sharing in Holy Communion as does every Catholic Eucharist following the example of Christ. But many of the prayers are different from ours, rich in symbolism that focuses with deep commitment on the unworthiness we all have before the Holy, the confidence we all are called to have in the Mother of God and the communion of saints and the proclamation of the great deeds by which Our Lord wrought our salvation. It kept occurring to me how wondrously are we called to fulfill the words of Jesus at the Last Supper, "Do this in remembrance of Me."
To read Bishop Murphy's full column click HERE. To read the Long Island Catholic story on the new bishop and exarchate, click HERE.
UPDATED: For an in-depth look at the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, click HERE to read an article by Michael La Civita, executive editor of One magazine, a publication of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
Pictured in photo at top of post, from left: Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York; Archbishop Thomas Mar Koorilos of Tiruvalla, India; Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos, major archbishop, Truvanthapuram, Kerala; Bishop Thomas Mar Eusebius; and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre. Photo by Long Island Catholic.