The decreasing number of missionary vocations has become a crucial challenge for the Syro-Malabar Church, Major Archbishop George Alencherry said yesterday. In his first pastoral letter to all churches in Kerala on St. Thomas' Day, the Major Archbishop said that lack of interest in Church vocations indicate the degeneration of faith in the family. “Our Church by her very nature is missionary, sent to impart the message of life. As an individual Church, the Syro-Malabar Church also has the same nature and mission. So decreasing vocations worry me,” he said. The degeneration of faith in families, lack of prayer life, fewer children, negative criticisms regarding priests and the religious, and the fear of obstacles faced by the missionaries, among other things, are factors in the decline, the Major Archbishop said in his four-page pastoral letter. He said the future of mission work depends on how effectively these concerns can be dealt with and exhorted the faithful to encourage children to respect missionaries and promote direct interaction with them, as well as donating generously to mission activities. Father Paul Thelakat, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, said that the quality of vocations is also an issue. “It’s a genuine concern of the church. Though the exact figures are not available, the fact remains now that youngsters are not much interested in joining the clergy. We are planning some positive steps to arrest the trend,” he said. Saint Thomas, the apostle to India, sowed the seeds of the Church when he arrived at Kodungallur, an ancient port called Muziris in the southern state, in AD 52. The saint was martyred at Mylapore near Chennai in AD 72. The church celebrates the dukrana feast in memory of his martyrdom.