Cardinal Vithayathil Counts On Cooperation Among Rites For New Diocese

2008-04-25 00:00:00

Cooperation among India´s three Catholic rites will help the Oriental Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) have a diocese in India´s national capital, according to Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam Angamaly.

"I hope the new diocese will be born out of love between the rites and not out of war," said the cardinal, who heads the SMC as its major archbishop.

The Redemptorist prelate, who is based in southern India´s Kerala state, made these remarks in Delhi on April 23 while addressing a program the Syro-Malabar Catholic Association organized in his honor, following his election in February as head of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India (CBCI).

The cardinal, who will turn 81 on May 29, was on an official visit to New Delhi after becoming president of the national conference, the only forum of all Indian bishops. India´s Catholic Church comprises Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites. The Latin-rite Church, the largest, is the result of missionary endeavors since the 16th century, while the other two Churches, both based in Kerala, trace their origin to Saint Thomas the Apostle.

The Latin Church has 128 dioceses across India, but Cardinal Vithayathil´s jurisdiction is restricted to Kerala and nearby places, where the SMC has most of its 26 dioceses. The SMC bishops have been demanding more "administrative structures" and dioceses across India, a move resisted by Latin bishops.

"I do not say we have no problems," he said, referring to some speakers who mentioned demands for an SMC diocese in the territory of Delhi archdiocese.

SMC lay leaders say Delhi and other major Indian cities have a large number of SMC migrants whose spiritual needs continue to be addressed by Latin bishops, but structures in the migrants´ own rite would serve them better.

"As far as the (creation of new) dioceses is concerned, it is up to Rome" to decide, the cardinal told the gathering. He also alluded that local campaigns and lobbying would have no impact.

Attending the congratulatory assembly for Cardinal Vithayathil were Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, the CBCI´s current first vice president, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, who was CBCI president for the past four years, and Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi.

Archbishop Concessao has been "so open and understanding" to the needs of the Orientals, and has "granted 23 personal parishes for us," Cardinal Vithayathil said to the applause of the 700-strong assembly.

"I always tell this to my people here. Delhi (Latin rite) archbishop is your archbishop. If you cut off with him, you are out of the Church," the cardinal also said, as Archbishop Concessao smiled.

In the past, some Delhi parishes experienced tension when some SMC groups accused archdiocesan systems of curtailing their rights to have SMC liturgies.

The cardinal stressed the need for the rites to remain in "love and unity" so as to witness to "Christian love" and work for a society "of freedom and justice." Such love and cooperation, not tension and conflict, he stressed, would lead to the establishment of a new diocese.

The cardinal also related that he had worked 40 years in the Latin Church as a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, and that his major appointments outside the congregation had been aimed to resolve conflicts.

As a priest, he was appointed by the pope to "resolve a conflict" in a Benedictine monastery in southern India, he said. "Then the pope asked me to go" to SMC "where there were some problems among bishops."

He was named in 1996 as apostolic administrator of Ernakulam archdiocese. He became SMC major archbishop in 1999 and a cardinal in 2001

"My prayer has been always: Let us all remain in love and unity," he said.

Archbishop Concessao, who addressed the gathering before the cardinal spoke, said the population of Delhi archdiocese is composed mostly of migrants from different parts of India and some from outside the country.

Without directly mentioning the demand for an Oriental diocese, he said Delhi archdiocese is uniquely diverse and Catholics in his archdiocese should try to "integrate in the local Church."

Cardinals Toppo and Gracias, who also spoke before Cardinal Vithayathil, did not mention SMC demands for dioceses. In talks lasting less than three minutes each, they wished the cardinal good health to "lead" the Church in India.


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