The real 'sleehe' of the Syro Malabar Migrants of England: prayerful wishes to Rev Fr Thomas Thaikkoottathil and Rev Dr Lonappan Arangasserry .
Dr Martin Thomas Antony
|Rev. Dr. Lonappan Arangasserry MST
|Rev. Fr. Thomas Thaikkoottathil MST
Syro Malabar Church is the second largest particular church of the Universal Catholic communion in the UK[i]. Syro Malabar faithful in the UK has been blessed with an Eparchy and an Eparchial Bishop with a number of wonderful gifted Priests working for the Church and the community. Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the only other Eastern Catholic Church in the UK with an Eparchy. For several decades, there have been migrations of Syro Malabar faithful to the UK. The pastoral care of these migrants was provided by the local Roman Catholic hierarchy. For the last 15-20 years, as the number of migrants increased significantly, a few Syro Malabar Priests came over to the UK to serve the Roman Catholic parishes were providing some kind of pastoral care to the diaspora community. The Universal Catholic church teaches that all the liturgical, spiritual theological and canonical traditions of Eastern Churches be preserved and nourished[ii]. Therefore, the only reason for the presence of Syro Malabar Church and its Eparchy in the UK is promotion and protection of the ecclesial traditions of the Apostolic Church of Saint Thomas Christians. If this is not the priority, there is no need for a Syro Malabar Church in the U.K.
With the formation of the Eparchy, the Syro Malabar Church has gained a large momentum in demonstrating her identity and spirituality. The Eparchy is being organised into regions under the leadership of a few Priests in various aspects of pastoral care. Organisation of women's forum, children's forum and youth forum are very good initiatives in the development of the community. The first Bible convention attracted masses of people to gather together regionally to listen to the word of God and to praise and worship the Lord. The first 'Bible Kalolsavam' (Art festival with the theme of the Holy Bible) was a big success in its organisational merits and the talents of the participants. In fact, with the formation of the Eparchy and the hierarchical system, the Syro Malabar Church in the UK is thriving in a completely different culture and language with the help of the wonderful clergy and the leadership of a young, energetic and enthusiastic Eparchial Bishop.
It is a sad news that two of the wonderful Priests of Syro Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain are leaving the UK. Rev Fr Thomas Thaikoottathil MST, the Chaplain of the Syro Malabar community in the diocese of Salford has completed his term of 5 years in the UK and left to India on 09/10/2017. Rev Dr Lonappan Arangasserry MST, the Chaplain of the Syro Malabar community in the diocese of Shrewsbury is leaving on 11/12/2017 to India, completing his 3- year term in the UK. Both of them were chaplains of Syro Malabar church appointed by the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church. They are returning to India to continue their Mission work in the North India. Both of them were a real blessing to the migrant Syro Malabar faithful in the UK. They were both hard working and promoted the authentic Syro Malabar traditions among the migrant communities. Both of them considered Syro Malabar Church as their priority. It is really a loss to the Syro Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain. They are the real 'sleehe' who worked hard to build the Syro Malabar Church in Great Britain.
Syro Malabar Church in the UK
The beginning of Syro Malabar Church in the UK was by the mass migration of Malayali Nurses in the late 20th century.[iii] A number of Priests and certain lay leaders led these small communities with regular prayers, night vigils and celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy in the Malayalam language based on the local Roman Catholic parishes. The main theme was pastoral care in Malayalam language, regular Charismatic retreats and prayers rather than the spirituality and rite of Syro Malabar Church. They functioned as an 'ethnolinguistic' community within the Catholic church of Britain. The second Vatican council and the post conciliar documents clearly exhort for prompt actions for promotion and observance of the rites of the Eastern Catholic faithful in a foreign land as the patrimony of the Universal Church of Christ.[iv] Thus, there was a need for the pastoral care of these migrant communities as they are of a different tradition and spirituality related to a particular church in the Catholic communion
Rightly, the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church also took initiative and Chaplaincies were formed. A number or Priests were appointed as Chaplains in the UK by the initiative of the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church and the local Roman Catholic church[v].
The Malayali Catholic communities in the UK were not interested in promoting the spirituality of Syro Malabar Church as a Sui iuris Church in the Catholic communion. The celebration of Holy Eucharistic Liturgy in its proper form with dignity, sacredness and ecclesial sense was not on the top of the priorities.
Some of these chaplains even fell into the trap of becoming personal chaplains of certain Malayali organisations. It is well known that one of the Malayali communities resisted and refused to accept a Syro Malabar Chaplain from the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church but to remain as an autocephalous group with a private Priest as their own Chaplain.
They were interested only in getting a few celebrity preachers from Kerala on a regular basis, that too every so often, to build up their affiliation groups. Thus, the Syro Malabar migrants in the UK became affiliation groups of a few celebrity Charismatic preachers from Kerala. Many of the English Roman Catholic Bishops and Parish priests were upset about the sectarianism and division among the Malayali community under their jurisdiction.
The faithful were very sad about the widespread liturgical indiscipline prevailed in the Syro Malabar communities in the UK. Most of the visiting Bishops and celebrity preachers explicitly disobeyed the unanimous decisions of the Holy Synod in relation to the celebration of the Holy Eucharistic liturgy[vi]. Their main excuse was that they were following the local customs. It was very curious to observe that in one of the Roman Catholic parishes in Central Manchester where all the English Masses were celebrated 'ad orietum'- completely facing the altar-, a prominent Syro Malabar Chaplain regularly celebrated Holy Qurbana of Syro Malabar Church completely facing the people.
Liturgical disputes in Syro Malabar Church.
Before the Vatican Council II, the celebration of the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy was facing the altar even in the Latin Rite. The Eucharistic Liturgy facing the people (ad populum) gained popularity in the Latin Rite with the spirit of the Vatican Council II, even when there were no clear instructions from any of the documents of the Council to celebrate Holy Eucharistic Liturgy facing the people. In fact, even today, the Roman Rite Missal still give rubrics when to face the people during the celebration[vii], clearly indicating the fact that even in the Latin Rite, the most appropriate mode of celebrating the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy is facing the altar.
In the Syro Malabar Church also, from time immemorial, the Holy Qurbana was celebrated facing the madbha. After the Vatican Council II, some of the Bishops of the Syro Malabar Church started to celebrate the Holy Qurbana ad populum- facing the people imitating the Latin Rite without any discussions with the fellow Syro Malabar Bishops. This led to two forms of celebrating the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy in Syro Malabar Church, the Southern eparchies celebrating fully facing the altar while some of the Northern Eparchies fully facing the people.
It has to be noted that during this period, There was no Syro Malabar Synod or Sui iuris status. The Bishops and Eparchies of Syro Malabar church functioned as individual Eparchies directly under the Pope. Many of the Bishops had no vision for an identity or individuality of the Church but considered the Syro Malabar rite as an offshoot of the Latin Church with a different Liturgy.
The Southern Eparchies of the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Church adhered to the Oriental traditions and spirituality and strictly obedient to the instructions from the Universal Church and Roman Pontiffs, some of the Northern Eparchies fell into the argument for unity in the Catholic Church in India and the need for a single rite for India. This led to the so-called movement for Indianisation and inculturation.
A prominent Catholic Theologian Dr William F Macomber observed in 1977 that the hierarchy of Syro Malabar Church is aiming to reform the Liturgy in terms of modernisation and Indianisation with a view to becoming a single rite in India, once the Latin Rite in India is also sufficiently Indianised.[viii] But many of these so called reformations were mere adaptations from the Latin Rite[ix] as the Holy See strictly prohibited these 'abusive Indianisations' and 'arbitrary innovations' that are incompatible with sound and genuine traditions.[x]
When the Syro Malabar Church was elevated to a Major Archepiscopal church with a sui iuris status, this Liturgical dispute troubled the Church. The Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church in 1999, as a compromise, unanimously decided to celebrate the Holy Qurbana in the so-called 50 :50 formula- - initial parts up to anaphora facing the people, the whole of anaphora and communion facing the altar and final prayers after the communion facing the people[xi]. Sadly, the Holy Synod failed to implement this unanimous decision of the Synod due to resistance from a section of the clergy[xii]. Hence, the Holy Synod had to give dispensation to certain eparchies.
The pastoral situation among migrants in the UK.
Being a migrant community with faithful from all areas of the proper territory of the Syro Malabar Major Archepiscopal church, the real pastoral situation in the UK demands adherence to the Synodal decisions in relation to the celebration of the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy. The guidelines of Pastoral care of migrants promulgated by The Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church instructs that the Sacred Liturgy and sacraments should be celebrated using approved texts and adhering to the rites and modes of celebration approved by the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church[xiii].
Many letters were sent to the Syro Malabar Chaplains, Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church and even to the local Roman Catholic Church to facilitate the proper celebration of the Holy Qurbana and to promote the identity of the Church as a particular church and spirituality. Cardinal Vincent Nicholls, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales even acknowledged this need in 2014 and commented that all the Chaplains and visiting priests should adhere to the approved norms of the Holy Synod in celebrating the Holy Eucharistic liturgy[xiv]. But abuses and indiscipline continued renouncing the decisions of the Holy Synod of Syro Malabar Church and even instructions of the local Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The Catholic church teaches that the Holy Spirit direct and influence the Church. Thus, the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church and its decisions are influenced by the Holy Spirit and these Liturgical abuses are actually renouncing the Holy Spirit. The local Roman Catholic Bishops and certain learned English Priests were astonished about the ignorance and indiscipline even among the visiting Bishops.
Lights of Hope
By the Grace of God, Lights of hope were seen by the appointment of Rev Fr Thomas Thaikkoottathil as the Chaplain of Syro Malabar Community in Manchester in 2012 and Rev Dr Lonappan Arangasserry in 2014 to Cheshire. Both of these Priests started using the name 'Syro Malabar' for the first time in the region. Both of them started celebrating the Holy Qurbana according to the norms of the decisions of the Holy Synod of the Church- initial parts up to anaphora facing the people, the whole of anaphora and communion facing the altar and final prayers after the communion facing the people[xv].
Efforts were taken to promote the identity of the Church. They worked hard to establish the first-ever Syro Malabar communities in the UK by transforming the existing Malayali Catholic communities. With their hardcore background from North Indian Missions, faith formation at the grass root level unified the communities under the banner of the Syro Malabar Church.
Rev Fr Thomas Thaikkoottathil.
Fr Thomas is a member of the religious order, Missionaries of Saint Thomas. He is from Vaypoor in the Arch-Eparchy of Changanacherry. He was working in the North Indian villages as a missionary. Fr Thomas organised the faithful of Syro Malabar Church in the Roman Catholic diocese of Salford. He served Central Manchester, North Manchester, Bolton and Blackburn. He travelled regularly to remote villages in Greater Manchester to teach the children and organise the faithful. Fr Thomas systematically organised Catechism in all the communities and even regular training programmes for the catechism teachers in Central Manchester which were unique. For several Sundays, his homily consisted of teaching about the Holy Qurbana of the Church. One of the prominent English parish priests in Manchester told the author that he was very pleased with the skills of Fr Thomas in uniting the community together. Fr Thomas was always in the local communities organising the church and educating the children.
Rev Dr Lonappan Arangasserry.
Rev Dr Lonappan Arangasserry is also a member of the religious order Missionaries of Saint Thomas. He was appointed as the Chaplain of Syro Malabar faithful in the Diocese of Shrewsbury in 2014. Fr Lonappan hails from Parappoor in the Arch-Eparchy of Trichur. He is an eminent liturgist and scholar of the Syro Malabar Church. He is an author of several books and numerous articles in various journals. He was a Professor in many seminaries and actively involved in the formation of the clergy. He was involved in the Liturgical committees of the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church and involved in preparation and revision of many Liturgical texts.
He always held a strong position in favour of the causes of the Syro Malabar Church and preservation of the liturgical and theological formation in its genuine purity. He stood for the decisions of the Holy Synod and to promote and protect the authentic spirituality and traditions of the Church. Fr Lonappan systematically organised the Catechism teaching by training the teachers, observing the legal formalities of the country like DBS/CRB etc. Fr Lonappan visited almost all the families of the faithful, reorganised the big communities in Wythenshawe and Wirral, organised the women faithful in the community, organised the younger generation under the banner of Mission League and Savio Friends, organised the altar servers with training and formation to them and strengthened the catechesis by strictly following the spirituality of the church.
Fr Lonappan was an active promoter and participant of the Festival of Eastern Catholic Churches held in August 2015 organised by the Society of Saint John Chrysostom. Society of Saint John Chrysostom is an organisation of Eastern and Western churches to promote understanding about Eastern Churches to the western Christendom. Cardinal Vincent Nicholls is the president of the Society. Fr Lonappan, along with Rev Dr Joseph Palackal made the festival into a very educational event by his scholarly lecture about the history and spirituality of the Syro Malabar Church.
Eparchy of Great Britain of the Syro Malabars.
Pope Francis established the Eparchy of Great Britain for the Syro Malabar's and Bishop Mar Joseph Srampickal was consecrated amidst a large crowd of faithful of about 12000 at Preston on 09th October 2016[xvi].
With the establishment of the Eparchy, the Syro Malabar Church in England is thriving in her own spirituality from an 'ethnolinguistic' identity. Comparing to other ethnic groups, the English Catholic Church is hopeful that the Syro Malabar Church would lead a new revival with a different Eastern spirituality in England. The English church is very supportive of the Syro Malabar Church and spirituality and insists that the Liturgy and sacraments of Syro Malabar Church are protected and preserved in England[xvii]. Preserving the upholding the authentic spirituality of the Syro Malabar Church is a witnessing the Judeo Christian movement of the Apostles. It will be a unique spiritual experience to the native English people who are only familiar with the Hellenised Latin West and the Greek East rather than the Judeo Christian Syriac Orient. It will be a great opportunity for the Syro Malabar Eparchy and faithful to witness and promote faith transmission in the Syriac spirituality to the native English people.
Syriac Spirituality is not alien to the Christianity in the Great Britain. Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (668-690 AD) was a Greek from Tarsus and was fluent in Syriac[xviii]. He was a monk in a monastery at Rome and was appointed as a Bishop in England. The influence of Syriac exegetic literature is widely seen in the Biblical commentaries of the Canterbury school of Theodore[xix].
The real 'sleehe' of the Church.
Fr Lonappan and Fr Thomas courageously upheld their Syro Malabar identity and spirituality when many other Pastors were hesistant. They were fully obedient to the Holy Synod of the Syro Malabar Church in celebrating the Holy Qurbana. In fact, these two Priests were the first to implement the decisions of the Holy Synod in the celebration of the Holy Eucharistic Liturgy in the UK. They built the church and community in the authentic spirituality and promoted the Apostolic traditions of the Church. They were the real 'sleehe' of the Apostolic Church of Saint Thomas Christians in the UK who built the Church in a foreign land and then handed over the community to the newly formed hierarchy. It is really a loss to the Syro Malabar Church in the UK but an asset to the Church in the North Indian villages.
It is the duty of the faithful now to continue the pastoral Mission initiated by these two 'sleehe' by adhering to the Spiritually of the Church. It is the right of the faithful in a foreign land to have their Liturgy and sacraments in its authentic purity as prescribed by the Holy Synod of the Church.
[i] The Roman Catholic Church in the UK is the largest Church in the Catholic communion in the UK. There is an Eparchy of Ukrainian greek catholic Church in London with a number of communities. But Syro Malabar Church is the second largest.
[ii] Pope Paul IV, Orientalium Ecclesiarum, Decree on the Catholic Churches of the Easstern Rite, promulgated on November 21.1964, Nos 1-6
[iii] Rev. Fr Mathew Thottathimyalil, History of Syro Malabar Church in the UK and Eire, 2005, p6, 37.
[iv] Stephen Fumio Cardinal Hamao, Erga Migrantes caritas Christ, (The Love of Christ towards migrants) Part II, No 26, Pontifican Council for the Pastoral care of migrants and itinerant people, 2004, Vatican city.
[v] Obviously, this did not attract approval from the Pastors and leaders of the Charismatic movement as they considered the situation as only an ethno linguistic problem rather thah that of a Particular Church and its spirituality and traditions. This caused tensions in the community.
[vi] Synodal News, (Bulletin of the Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church) vol 7, Numbers 1 & 2, December 1999, p71-72
[vii] General Instructions of Roman Missal, 146, 154, 57, 158, 165, 167.
[viii] William Macomber, A History of Chaldean Mass, Worship, Vol 51 No 2, 1977, pp 523-536
[ix] G Vavanikunnel and J Madey, "A Reform of the restored Syro Malabar Qurbana", Ostkirchliche Studien 18,(1969) 172-181 cited by William F Macomber, A History of Chaldean Mass, Worship, No2 1977, pp523-536
[x] Xavier Koodapuzha, Roman Documents on the Syro Malabar Liturgy, OIRSI, Kottayam, 1999, pp 25-26
[xi] Synodal News(Bulletin of the Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church) vol 7, Numbers 1 & 2, December 1999, p71-72
[xii] Synodal News vol 8 No 1 September 2000, p18 . The Holy Synod observed that open clandestine squad work by some groups who influenced others was one of the major factors in the failure to implement the decision. This means there was squad work by certain corners to oppose the unanimous decision of the Holy Synod.
[xiii] Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of Syro Malabar Church, Guidelines of Pastoral Care of Migrants, kakkanad, January 23, 2009.
[xiv] Archbishop Vincent Cardinal Nicholls, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, personal letter dated 21 January 2014 to the author with a copy to the then Co ordinator of the Syro Malabar Mission in England.
[xv] Synodal News(Bulletin of the Syro Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church) vol 7, Numbers 1 & 2, December 1999, p71-72
[xvi] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-37587782 accessed on 29 June 2017
[xvii] Archbishop Vincent Cardinal Nicholls, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, personal letter dated 21 January 2014 to the author with a copy to the then Co ordinator of the Syro Malabar Mission in England.
[xviii] Panteleimon Tzorbatzoglou, St Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury 668-690, A Greek from Tarsus of Cicilia in England,: some aspects of his life , Mediterranean Chronicles, Vol 2 2012, Diavlos, p 80
[xix] Sebastian Brock, St Theodore of Canterbury,The Canterbury School and the Christian East, Heythorpe Journal, XXXVI,1995, p433