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The World this Week: Taliban takes over Afghanistan, Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod Begins

Updated: Aug 17, 2021

Paulose Variyath/ Freelance Journalist


There are two streams of thought in the 5 million strong Syro-Malabar Church. One that draws its inspiration from the Vatican Council II, and the vibrant and diverse Indian culture, and the other that believes in going back to 4th Century Christianity of the Middle East. The latter has a brute majority in the Synod, thanks to the active interference of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

If one were to draw parallels with the Taliban invasion and the 29th Synod of Bishops, they are many commonalities one may notice. Like the U.S. in Afghanistan and going a step ahead, Vatican not only abandoned the majority of faithful who believed in the reforms brought by the Second Vatican Council and the Papacy of Francis, but is fully behind the ultra conservatives in the Church by waving the wand of discipline.The Afghans may have the remote hope of escaping the Taliban rule by migrating to other countries, but a Syro-Malabar faithful is not that lucky. The only option before her is to surrender to the ultra-conservatives or leave the Church.


Photo Credit to Public domain

This week the world watched in horror the dreadful scenes of thousands of Afghans trying to flee Kabul as the Taliban captured the city. The unbelievable images of desperate Afghans trying to cling on to a U.S. military plane as it was taking off and some of them eventually falling off will be etched into our memory for years to come. It was the U.S. withdrawal after twenty years that led to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. People of Afghanistan used to basic human rights including equal treatment of women were in a shock learning about the abrupt withdrawal of the U.S. forces. The U.S. withdrawal was based on a treaty with Taliban that did not promise anything in return. The world was once again reminded of the horrific images of the earlier Taliban rule (1996 - 2001) where public executions were common, women were forced to wear head to toe burqa, men were punished for trimmed beards etc. The U.S. President justified the withdrawal stating that nation building was never its concern. The Pope prayed for peace and said, “I invite you to pray with me to the God of peace so that the din of arms may cease and solutions may be found at the table of dialogue. Only in this way will the tormented population of that country - men, women, elderly and children - be able to return to their homes and live in peace and security in full mutual respect.”


On 16 August 2021 miles away in Kerala, India the 29th Syro-Malabar Synod was inaugurated by the Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alenchery. The Synod that will continue up to 27th August is expected to take a decision on the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Mass. Thanks to modern technology, the 61 bishops are attending the synod online and are expected to take the Church back to 4th Century AD. As per the media release by the Church (thankfully in Malayalam, the language used by the Syro-Malabar faithful) the Vatican Nuncio to India Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli addressed the Synod on 17th August (almost at the same time the Taliban leaders were addressing a press conference trying to assuage the global fear) and reminded the Bishops of their duty to uphold the unity but not to enforce the uniformity at the cost of unity. As he is the voice of Pope Francis in India, he knows the mind of his leader that uniformity is not the virtue for Syro Malabar Catholic Church. As was discussed in this site before, there are two streams of thought in the 5 million strong Syro-Malabar Church. One that draws its inspiration from the Vatican Council II, and the vibrant and diverse Indian culture, and the other that believes in going back to 4th Century Christianity of the Middle East. The latter has a brute majority in the Synod thanks to the active interference of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.


If one were to draw parallels with the Taliban invasion and the 29th Synod of Bishops, they are many commonalities one may notice. Like the U.S. in Afghanistan and going a step ahead, The Vatican not only abandoned the majority of faithful who believed in the reforms brought by the Second Vatican Council and the Papacy of Francis, but is fully behind the ultra conservatives in the Church by waving the wand of discipline.The Afghans may have the remote hope of escaping the Taliban rule by migrating to other countries, but a Syro-Malabar faithful is not that lucky. The only option before her is to surrender to the ultra-conservatives or leave the Church.


As the ultra-conservative rule is going to be enforced with Vatican’s backing what is to expect in the Syro-Malabar Church in the years to come? It is expected that the following measures will be taken by the Synod if one were to go by the public statements of the votaries of the Major Archbishop. As the Vatican believes that the Catholic Church becomes lively and vibrant only if the Eastern Churches retain their traditions, these may not be seen as long-term goals of the conservatives. Like the fall of Kabul this may happen very soon. Within a short span these changes will be visible as the streets of Kabul changed overnight.


Photo credit/ public domain


Removal of the Crucifix


After the Altar facing Mass is introduced, the Church will in all probability go for removal of Crucifix not only from the Altar, but even from homes. As per the votaries of tradition, there is no place for a ‘dead body’ in the altar. The crucifix was removed from many churches in the first wave of ‘easternisation’ in the Church. Images like the Taliban destruction of Buddhas of Bamiyan will repeat in the Syro-Malabar churches across India and abroad. The Vatican should plan to telecast these visuals live as the universal church can become vibrant and lively watching these scenes.


Changes in Faith Formation

An Auxiliary Bishop, who is groomed to be the next Major Archbishop, while addressing a group of Catechism teachers was thinking aloud of transforming the faith formation in the Church. He thinks that the current pedagogy and texts that allow raising questions and based on logic are outdated. He suggests that the Church should adopt the ‘strict and narrow’ system of catechism teaching. The mindset of the bishop is very clear that any dissenting voice will be annihilated by hook and crook.


Seminary Formation

In the prelude to the Synod, the ultra-conservatives conducted many online ‘training sessions’ where the faithful raised questions (going by the tone of these questions, prepared by session leaders themselves) to Bishops and prominent conservative priests. To a question that was mourning the fact that Holy Mass was no longer celebrated in Syriac language, a Member of the Liturgical Commission, identified the root cause for the same. It was the introduction of Seminary formation for the priests that destroyed usage of Syriac language in the Church. He was implying that it was high time that the Church went back to the 4th century mode of priestly formation, where the aspirants stayed with a senior priest and learnt Syriac language and how to offer Holy Mass. Yes, a thinking priest is an enemy of tradition and stands in the way of a vibrant universal Church!


Bring back Mass in Syriac

In the same online meet, the Liturgy Commission Member described how the Holy Mass in the Syro-Malabar Church can be fully experienced only if it was celebrated in Syriac. Malayalam, the language spoken by the faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church has limitations and one cannot have God-experience in that language. How musical it will be for the ears of the 'mandarins' in Vatican hearing the Malayali singing kandisha Alaha !


Obedience is better than sacrifice

Only lesson that a Syo-Malabari should learn from the Bible is obedience. Do not question. If your Major Archbishop is indulging in corruption, do not question. If nuns demand action against a Bishop who raped one of them, do not support them. For obedience is better than sacrifice. By our obedience, the Universal Church is going to become lively and vibrant !


Women lack Freedom

One thing that is common to all traditions is to control women and restrict their freedom and agency. If one were to go by the fan followers of the Major Archbishop, it is the solemn duty of every male to ‘protect’ the girls in the community. A strict control over their dress and movement can save them from eternal fire. Women by giving birth to as many children as possible, can render great service to the Church.


Harsh Punishments.

The ‘Canon law experts’ are active in the social media discussing about the punishments to be meted out to Bishops (handful of them), priests and the faithful who dare to question the corruption and the autocratic way in which decisions are taken in the Church. ‘Excommunication’ is the minimum punishment that they prescribe. The Vatican may appoint a special commission to make that process faster as there may be many in the faithful who may have a learnt a lesson or two other than obedience from the Bible. The Vatican may also think of reintroducing inquisition to deal with the ‘rebels’. For, the inquisition is also one of the glorious chapters in Catholic Church Tradition !

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