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Land of Gandhi cries for justice. Syro Malabar clergymen seek the ways of Gandhian Satyagraha

By Wimal Mary Das. Freelance journalist from USA

Land of Gandhi cries for justice. Syro Malabar clergymen seek the ways of Gandhian Satyagraha for truth and justice in the Church.

The liturgy Syro Malabar Church continues to divide the Syro Malabar faithful. The Synod and Major Archbishop have failed to bring peace in the Church. The intervention of Pope Francis permitted Archbishop Antony Kariyil, the prelate of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, to grant dispensation according to the Common law of the Church (CCEO 1538) from the decision of the Synod, insisting to celebrate the Holy Mass using a 50:50 formula.

This permission to continue celebrating the Holy Mass facing people bought clamour in the Church. However, the impulsiveness of the Major Archbishop and the permanent Synod hastily challenging Pope Francis and the Oriental congregation messed up the peace that ensued after the intervention of the Pope. On a later development, the Major Archbishop wrote to the archbishops and bishops of the Church asking to withdraw the dispensation granted as per the wish of Pope Francis, evoked missed feelings among the faithful.

The exclusive letter addressed to archbishops and bishops was written by the Major Archbishop confidentially, but surprisingly it was shared with the media by his office, which raised many eyebrows.

"This kind of approach certainly loses the credibility of his office, which created a backlash from the faithful. Pope Francis wanted to bring peace, but Major Archbishop wanted to challenge and destroy the peace that the Archbishop and his entourage painfully brought to the archdiocese. Moreover, the Church at large by their arduous journey benefited largely giving a pastoral vision of Pope Francis,” a senior priest said on the condition of anonymity. Responding to the Major Archbishop’s letter, Kariyil reiterated the stand of Pope Francis upholding the dispensation granted by him.

Crisis deepens in the Church

The Syro Malabar clergy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam spent Christmas day praying and fasting, resonating with the Gandhian way of freedom struggle in India.

A fear has gripped the clergy and the faithful that the Major Archbishop would thwart the decision of Pope Francis on dispensation. “ The dispensation granted by virtue of the Archbishop's office is not a permanent solution, but our right to continue the celebration of the Holy Mass facing people and it must be legalized,” a laity leader said.

The Syro Malabar Church has created history because this is the first time its clergy set apart the most important day of our faith to sit down and fast and pray for a noble cause. Father Kuriakose Mundadan, the leader of the presbyterium of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, told us that choosing this extraordinary day is very special: that God became human and profoundly manifested in the celebration of Christmas.

God wants to be with a human being. Holy Mass is a form of dialogue. Any form of dialogue occurs facing people that is exactly what we are asking for; that is what we need in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is our privilege and right to continue the age-old custom – more than 52 years of celebrating the Holy Mass facing people. Thus on this very special day of Christmas, the clergy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam came together and spent a day in prayer and fasting, seeking a solution for the problem we face.

The laity leader adds: “Only through negotiation and consultation can we bring peace to the community. Dictatorship or unilaterally imposing ideologies will rip apart the existing unity and peace. We are not claiming that this, the fasting and prayer on Christmas Day, is a protest, but we are firm that it is a humble way of coming together and sitting down, fasting and praying for this grave concern we are raising. It also shows the priority that we uphold.”

The clergy’s decision to fast and pray on Christmas has evoked unprecedented support and assistance from the people of God. A large number of faithful assembled before the Archbishop’s house, raising their slogan of support and solidarity.

India has witnessed the Gandhian way of Satyagraha in the freedom struggle, which is very close to people's hearts. Gandhi had used Satyagraha as a political tool to resist the overpowering imperialistic attitude of British colonial power. Satyagraha literally means holding firmly to the truth, and a strong resistance through non-violence.

Why does Satyagraha become more relevant to the clergy's resistance towards the Synod's decision on the liturgical issue? A laity activist, Shyju Antoney, says: "The Syro Malabar Synod never heard the voice of the clergy or laity. The Major Archbishop and other bishops seem animated by the revenge towards the Archdiocese of Ernakulam. It is absolutely not a pastoral solution they proposed. Moreover, the decision of the 50:50 formula is camouflaged as an amicable solution, but it is not.”

“It is a sugar-coated heresy in eradicating our legacy. We honestly resist the mind of the Synod to impose and destroy the existing peace sawing the division and hate. I think they are winning the game. Unfortunately, It is through petty politics. Pope Francis must strip the powers of the Synod and establish a Papal delegate who accepts the legacy of our Church," said the laity movement leader.

We stand with Pope Francis and his Pastoral approaches.

A catechism teacher of Kalady Parish comments:

“In the Indian Catholic Church, it is so unfortunate that injustice is prevailing in the Syro Malabar Synod. The clergy of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam assembled on Christmas day to fast and pray to follow the directives of Pope Francis regarding the Holy Mass facing the people. They are certain that it is their right to continue celebrating Holy Mass facing people that has been going on in the diocese for more than 52 years. There was absolutely no discussion or consultation with any clergy or laypeople regarding implementing the 50:50 formula. It has created irreparable damages to the social fabric of Syro Malabar Church. No one can accept the authoritarian, dictatorial attitude of the bishops. Certainly, It is against the spirit of the Vatican second. The openness and the transparency endorsed by the fathers of the Second Vatican Council have been terribly destroyed by the arbitrary decisions of the current Syro Malabar Church. The friction in the society, especially in the churches of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam, already sparked a nasty backlash. We stand with Pope Francis and his pastoral deliberations."

The Vatican got misguided, and the Oriental congregation became a puppet in the hands of Syro Malabar bishops’ power politics.

“The liturgy issue in the Syro Malabar Church is not an administrational problem, but it is absolutely a pastoral issue. Unfortunately, confusing this with administrational issues is the epicenter of all the problems in the Syro Malabar Church. Or Synod of the Syro Malabar Church’s malafide communication to the Oriental Congregation in such a way aggravated the situation worse,’ said a priest on the condition of anonymity.

Major Archbishop leads Fire- celebration imitating the orthodox style of celebration in India. He is accused of drifting away from Catholic Faith and leaning towards to Orthodox group in India.

“The Major Archbishop is challenging Pope Francis and creating division in the society. He breeds hate. If he cannot bring peace and harmony in the Syro Malabar Church. he has to resign and make way for better leadership in the Church. The Major Archbishop has shown divisive symptoms of an impending division of the Church, and he is leaning towards Oriental Orthodox Church in India,” Mr. Riju Kanjookaran of the Movement for Transparency said.

The Christmas celebration of the Major Archbishop adds to this burning issue as he celebrated his Christmas Mass at Mount St. Thomas, the headquarters of the Church. He clearly echoed his propensity to become an independent church leaning towards orthodox faction whose fire celebration he adapted. “This is a betrayal of an unflinching faith that the Syro Malabar faithful upheld to the leader of the Catholic Church.” Mrs. Soosan Mathew, a frequent churchgoer and mother of three, said.

Are we missing the point: Unity and unifying factor of India.

Uniformity never brings unity, but the unifying factor of the Indian population, indeed, is diversity. The attitude of the Syro Malabar Synod is never positive but disruptive. The uniformity being imposed by hook and crook will not bring peace and harmony to the community. It deepens wounds and creates irreparable damages in the Church. People have begun to ponder an impending division in the Syro Malabar Church. Alternatively, people are thinking about quitting the Church as well.

Instead of bickering and infighting in the Syro Malabar Church, the faithful began to ask for a new rite or dicastery that can look after the needs of the faithful, just like the Syro Malankara Church. This kind of new setup can facilitate the peaceful faith experience in the Church.

“It is our right, and we know we have been celebrating the Holy Mass facing the people for more than 52 years, and what we need is it must be legally accepted and celebrated. Who is against it? The Synod of Syro Malabar Church, NOT Pope Francis. We are discouraged and are destroying our trust and faith in the current leadership. To a certain extent, we deny our faith. There is nobody to listen to the continuous plea we make from our hearts. It is worse than petty politics played in the secular world. I wonder why Pope Francis is not interfering and removing the cardinal at the earliest? It is not disrespecting that position as Major Archbishop, but he is corrupt and not worthy of being in the office,” Mr. Tom Varghese from Chicago reacted.

A new rite: a model of Syro Malankara Church is a way out from this crisis.

We can look back to the history of the Syro Malankara Church. A faction of the Orthodox community joined with Catholic Church in 1930, but they have continued the legacy of the Orthodox faith. It would be nice to adapt the rationale behind the reunification of the Syro Malankara Church. The Syro Malabar faction obsessed with the Orthodox ideology of worship may be allowed to part away from the Syro Malabar Church and make them a separate rite headquartered at Changanassery, and that would be a long-lasting solution to the problem they have created.

Orientalism and its obsession for the Old Chaldean heritage (not the current Chaldean Church as they celebrate Holy Mass facing people) have destroyed the peace and unity of the Syro Malabar Church, especially under the leadership of Major Archbishop George Allenchery. The epicenter of this division and spreading hate between ecclesiological siblings will be rectified amicably with the erection of a new rite for their use. If they are not happy to be of this rationale, the Vatican must consider erecting another rite for the larger chunk of Syro Malabar Catholics who uphold the Holy Mass facing people very close to their hearts.

Willingness to act, the problems can be solved immediately

Pope Francis and the Oriental Congregation, it is a plea to your esteemed office that you may have the willingness to act and create another rite for Major Archbishop Cardinal Allencherry where he can have a long-cherished title of Patriarch in the Kingdom of Changanassery and if anyone wants to be of that style of Oriental faith, they could choose to be part of it.

The idiosyncrasy and predilection of the Major Archbishop’s actions and habits warrant his astute aspiration to become a Patriarch and have an Orthodox-like Church in India. Instead of taxing for someone’s aberrations and harassing a larger number of Syro Malabar Catholics, it will be more than a charity from both sides that a solution to an imminent problem can be hammered out amicably. Only the Vatican authorities can fix the enigmatic problem that everyone from India and abroad from the large array of Syro Malabar faithful patiently waiting to hear from you, your eminence Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.

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