Indian archbishop balances different Catholic rites

The Syro-Malabar leadership had been asking for more dioceses across India, a move Latin bishops previously resisted
Indian archbishop balances different Catholic rites

Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews.com photo) 

Serving as the first bishop of the Eastern rite Faridabad Diocese since its inception in 2012, Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara focuses on maintaining cordial relations with the Latin rite church in northern India.

"My approach toward the rite-issue was to create peace and serenity among Latin and Orientals and at the same time help all grow spiritually,” said Archbishop Bharanikulangara who head the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Faridabad.

Rivalry and tension has often marked relations between India's two Eastern rite churches, with the larger Latin-rite on many occasions opposing the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches having missions outside Kerala in southern India. The Catholic Church in India comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.

The Latin-rite follows the Roman liturgy that European missioners introduced in the 15th century.

The other two Eastern rite churches, based in Kerala, follow Syrian church traditions and trace their origins to St. Thomas the Apostle.

The Second Vatican Council stressed the evangelization rights of all Catholics and underlined the freedom of all rites to engage in the mission of the church.

Faridabad Diocese, based in Delhi, was set up in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI to cover most of northern India and caters to the needs of about 150,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in the region. 

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The diocese has 61 priests and 250 nuns, 35 parishes, 12 mission stations among a  predominantly Hindu population of some 10 million people.

The Syro-Malabar leadership had been asking for more administrative structures and dioceses across India, a move Latin bishops previously resisted.

There were tensions with the Latin parishes in Delhi Archdiocese when some Syro-Malabar groups accused the Latin rite archdiocese of curtailing their rights to conduct liturgies in the region. 

Even as a new diocese was erected to serve the spiritual and other needs of Syro-Catholics in northern India, Archbishop Bharanikulangara did not have a smooth path.

Some of the members approached the Vatican congregation after a Joint Pastoral Letter in Nov. 2013 signed by Archbishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi and Archbishop Bharanikulangara said that all Syro-Malabar Catholics had automatically become a part of Faridabad Diocese.

The 58-year-old archbishop said that his different approach in handling the situation had been whole-heartedly welcomed by prelates in the region.

"Those Catholics who have lived outside Kerala for generations expressed unhappiness with the transfer since they were comfortable in the local Latin parishes, so our approach was holistic," he said.

Archbishop Bharanikulangara said that his diocese did not ask or force anybody to join because of a condition that those belonging to the Syro-Malabar Church were required to receive the three sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Matrimony in that rite.

Other sacraments such as attending Mass, confession or anointing of the sick could be practiced in any Latin church if they so wished, he added. 

As per the arrangement, a Latin parish can conduct baptisms, confirmations and marriages for Syro-Malabar Catholics, but only with permission sought from the Eastern rite church to do so.

The Latin pastor has to register such sacraments in his parish records, specifying that the person is a member of the Syro-Malabar Church. The Latin pastor has also to send the certificates of such baptisms and confirmations to his Syro-Malabar counterpart.

Archbishop Bharanikulangara, who was serving as deputy nuncio in the German nunciature before being appointed as archbishop in Faridabad, said there was much resistance in the beginning, but later everyone realised that it was good for both the churches and the greater glory of God. 

He said that his four-year stint at the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations helped him address and fulfil the spiritual needs of Syro-Malabar Catholics in northern India.

Serving as desk officer for the Second Committee of the United Nations — dealing with development, climate change, sustainability and poverty eradication — he learned about the need for tolerance.

 

Mission for migrant workers

Since many people from Kerala move to Delhi for better job opportunities, the archbishop noted that another focus of his work was to cater to migrant workers, especially youth.

Faridabad Diocese gives migrants training in tailoring and animal husbandry as well as catering to their spiritual needs.

They are also encouraged to participate in parish activities such as a youth choir and a Bible quiz.

Multi-lingual Archbishop Bharanikulangara said he took a step-by-step approach to evangelizing in the region.

"We make small mission stations in states like Punjab and Himachal Pradesh with the help of the local church," he said.

The mission stations would gradually be expanded as local people became comfortable with their presence, he added.

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