Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, center, the papal nuncio in India, arriving along Cardinal George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church for the opening Mass of the Archiepiscopal Assembly Aug. 25 in Trichur, Kerala. (Photo supplied)
A major representative assembly of the oriental Syro-Malabar Church has asked its bishops, priests, religious and laypeople to adopt a life of simplicity, saying luxury in the church should be seen as a violation of the rights of the poor.
The once-in-five-year Major Archiepiscopal Assembly concluded Aug. 28 in Trichur, southern Indian Kerala state, stressing that ceremonies such as ordinations of priests and bishops, weddings and funerals should not become extravagant celebrations. Every such event should consider the "poorest of the poor" in society, it said.
The four-day assembly was a fourth in a series that began after the Syro-Malabar Church, an Eastern Catholic church based in Kerala, was made a major archiepiscopal see in 1992. That empowered it to be a self-governing church to manage its affairs through a high-powered decision making synod of bishops.
The canonically mandated assembly is a gathering of representatives of laity, priests and religious and all the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church. The assembly is a consultative body that aims to advise the church's head and synod on issues of importance to the church, said the Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Father Jimmy Poochakkatt.
Some 510 people, including some 60 representatives from 20 countries, attended the assembly representing migrants living away from the church's headquarters in Kerala. Bishops of all 33 dioceses, including those in England, Australia and the United States also attended the assembly.
Of the 53 bishops in the church, 47 of them were present. "Others could not because of health reasons," Father Shaji Kochupurayil, the assembly secretary told ucanews.com.
Hundreds of priests and nuns from the Syro-Malabar Church work in most of the 130 Latin dioceses across India, and its own 14 dioceses outside Kerala. Most of its dioceses outside Kerala are in areas inhabited by tribal people and poor and marginalized rural communities. The Catholic Church in India comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.
The assembly lauded the work of church members especially in mission areas but stressed the need for more study and focus to make lifestyles and church life simple and becoming of a church of the poor.
"It is necessary to correct everything that can construed as luxury, counter-witnessing and not taking the side of the poor," said a statement from the assembly. All need to change their life styles including "bishops, priests, religious and laity," the assembly said in its suggestions, submitted to the synod seeking pastoral guidelines.
The assembly sought pastoral guidelines to make events such as ordinations of bishops and priests and weddings simple. They also wanted parish festivals to avoid extravagances such as fire works.
It said that at least 25 percent of the budget of the parish feasts should go to help the local poor. Feasts should focus more on spiritual revival than entertainment and flaunting wealth. Processions and celebrations connected to feasts should not obstruct road traffic or disturb local people, the assembly suggested.
A part of donations that retreat centers and pilgrim centers receive should be set apart for corporal acts of mercy such as feeding the hungry and housing the homeless.
Father Poochakkatt told ucanews.com that the suggestions will be studied at various levels before the synod will issue guidelines.