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An open letter to Papal Delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil.

Updated: Aug 9, 2023

Bishop hesitates to dialogue

Mr. Johny Chengalan

An open letter to Papal Delegate Archbishop Cyril Vasil

Your Excellency,

It was with great expectation that we awaited your arrival in Kerala as the Papal Delegate to the Syro-Malabar Church to find an amicable solution to the controversy centred on the 50:50 Synodal Eucharistic formula. However, from your letter to the laity, priests and religious of Ernakulam Angamaly Archdiocese, it is clear that you have come at the behest of the Apostolic Administrator, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, who was your class fellow in Rome. You have come to implement the Synodal Mass approved by the Pope. You have not made public your appointment letter and the points of reference thereof. Be that as it may, there are a few points I like to bring to your notice:

· The Eparchy of Ernakulam Angamaly has accepted the text of the Eucharist approved by the Pope and in all Syro-Malabar churches, the text is being used during the Holy Eucharist.

· Our point of disagreement is the rubric added to the text post Papal approval, without his knowledge: the notorious 50:50 formula. This formula grafted into the approved text later, requires the celebrant to face the congregation during some part of the Mass and face the altar during the rest of it. We cannot accept this interpolation for two reasons: it was added to the text after the Pope had approved of it (and he had no knowledge of it and I presume that he is still in the dark about it) and it is not in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council’s deliberations on the celebration of the Eucharist. This 50:50 formula is sought to be imposed on the Eparchy of Ernakulam Angamaly on the ground that it was the tradition of the Syro-Malabar Church. We do not agree with this. The entire Catholic Church was celebrating altar-facing Eucharist prior to Vatican II. So, if the Synod of the Syro-Malabar Church is insistent on reviving the traditional Mass, it should not be a 50:50 formula. Traditional practice demands that the celebrant face the altar throughout the Eucharist. The only exception was during the homily.

· Post Vatican II, Kanjirappally diocese under the late Archbishop Joseph Powathil, was the lone Syro-Malabar diocese that continued to celebrate the Holy Eucharist facing the altar. The Prelates of the other dioceses did not toe his line and instead chose to align themselves with the teachings of the Vatican II. Archbishop Powathil was a man of erudition but had little pastoral experience prior to his episcopal ordination. So, he gave scant regard for the opinions of his fellow bishops, priests and the laity. Later he was elevated as the Archbishop of Changanassery, the hotbed of orthodoxy in the Syro-Malabar Church. The controversies plaguing the Syro-Malabar Church today is the offspring of his myopic and radically traditional outlook on the Eucharist. Our request is that just as Kanjirappally and Changanassery under Archbishop Powathil were allowed to continue with altar-facing Eucharist while more than 95 per cent of the Catholic Church, deviating from tradition, blazed a new trail, we be allowed to align ourselves with the universal Church and continue with Eucharist versus Populum. We have been doing this for about six decades now. Why should we change now when we know that theologically and dogmatically we are in the right? How can someone tell us not to celebrate the Eucharist in the way the Holy Father is celebrating it daily?

· I had challenged Archbishop Thazhath to give us a few convincing reasons for us to follow the 50:50 formula. We are not bound to follow something which, we feel, is not in consonance with the teachings of our Lord and the universal Catholic Church, even when the directive is from the Synod of the autonomous Syro-Malabar Church. On other hand, we can give you several reasons why we wish to continue with Eucharist versus Populum. And our conscience is crystal clear when we vouch for the Eucharist versus Populum. We want that in the Eparchy of Ernakulam Angamaly Eucharist versus Populum is accepted as a variant.

· From your letter it is evident that you have not come for a dialogue. You seem to have come to implement the schemes of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, those of Cardinal Sandri and all those radicalized Curia in Rome which shed crocodile tears over the disappearance of irrational traditions, but do not lament over the empty churches in Western Christendom.

· The revised text of the Holy Eucharist was approved by the Synod in 1999. However, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, then Archbishop of Ernakulam Angamalay, put its implementation on hold in the Archdiocese saying that the time has not come for it. Today, Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alancherry and Apostolic Administrator Archbishop Andrews Thazhath refuse to follow the noble tradition set by venerable former Prelates like Mar Varkey Vithayathil and instead seek compliance by hook or crook. They seem to follow the Latin proverb: ‘video meliora proboque, deteriora secur’ (I see and approve the right but I follow the wrong). Bringing you in as the external agency to implement something they could not do themselves, is unchristian and hence unacceptable.

· The liturgical controversy has been propped up in order to divert the attention of the faithful from the dubious land deals entered into by the ecclesiastical authorities in Ernakulam causing huge losses. The Holy Father had directed the Synod to make restitution for the losses but the Syond is silent on this matter.

· St. Mary’s Basilica, the mother Church of the Archdiocese, has been closed for a prolonged time, thanks to the controversies raked by the Apostolic Administrator and a few rebel priests of the Archdiocese hand in glove with him. Is it within your agenda to reopen the Basilica at the earliest?

The crisis affecting the Eparchy of Ernakulam Angamaly is indeed grave. If the wounds inflicted by the controversy are not treated and cured timely, it would enlarge into a gigantic one defying cure. Do you want the Syro-Malabar Church to grow weaker? Both the Cardinal and the Apostolic Administrator are scheming to destroy the Archdiocese and you are brought in as the next executioner where others have failed. Please leave our Archdiocese alone. If our bishops are sincere to solve the problem, they need to enter into discussions and dialogues with the laity, priests and religious of the diocese. They should be willing to listen to our opinions. Without such open methods being initiated, the problem can never be solved, even if the Holy Father himself comes. Let us pray God to show us the path ahead.

Yours sincerely,

Mr. Johny Chengalan

Thottuva 08.08.2023

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