The cathedral under Syro-Malabar Church was sealed on the eve of Christmas following clashes over uniform mode of Mass
Catholics protest in front of St Mary's Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam in the southern Indian state of Kerala on Jan. 26 demanding the police reopen it. (Photo supplied)
Some 300 Catholics demonstrated demanding the reopening of a cathedral in southern India on Jan. 26, more than a month after police closed it following a violent clash between rival Catholics over a longstanding liturgy dispute.
Police sealed the St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam-Angamaly archdiocese in the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala last Christmas eve.
The violence on the altar of the cathedral resulted in the desecration of consecrated holy host and wine and police had to intervene, church officials said.
“Our Church is closed and we have to go to nearby parishes for attending holy Mass and availing other sacraments,” says Thankachan Perayil, convener of Basilica Community, a group of cathedral parishioners, who protested.
Perayil blamed Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese, and Father Antony Poothavelil, administrator of the Cathedral, for the violence.
Archbishop Thazhath appointed the priest administrator after he faced a boycott by the majority of priests and faithful in the archdiocese due to his insistence on implementing the uniform mode of Mass in the archdiocese.
The parishioners and priests in the archdiocese want the Mass with celebrants facing the people, and they rejected the Church Synod-approved Mass, in which the celebrant faces the altar during Eucharistic prayer.
The archdiocesan priests and parishioners want to immediately remove the apostolic administrator as they are not willing to work with him. They accuse the prelate of trying to impose his order on them without caring for their needs.
Among the 35 dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church, only Catholics in the archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly have refused the synod-approved Mass, which Church officials say aims to have a uniform mode of Mass.
The synod approved the Mass in 1999, but resistance delayed its implementation.
The row worsened with the appointment of Archbishop Thazhath and clashes forced the closure of the cathedral earlier on Nov. 27, after Archbishop Thazhath was denied permission to offer the synod Mass.
It reopened on Dec. 20 after Archbishop Thazhath appointed Father Poothavelil as its administrator despite opposition from the curia and the majority of the parishioners.
The Christmas eve violence occurred when priests of both groups simultaneously tried to offer Mass at the Cathedral altar.
Priests of the archdiocese claim Father Poothavelil and supporters attempted to celebrate the Syond-approved Mass while their Mass was progressing, and it caused the violence.
The Synod, which is the Church's supreme decision-making body, said the archdiocese is governed by an apostolic administrator and so it cannot interfere in the disputes.
Father Poothavelil denied the allegations against him, saying, “I have not done anything wrong, instead I was only trying to comply with the order of my authorities.”
“My appointment as administrator of the Cathedral was aimed at implementing the uniform mode of Mass and I tried to do that but priests and the faithful did not allow me to do so”.
India-based Syro-Malabar Church, one of the 22 Oriental churches in communion with the Holy See, is the second largest Eastern Church with more than 5 million followers.
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