Fr. Rogi Narithookkil
Whenever, I think of the presence of the Kerala Catholics in the U. K, verses from the book of Genesis come to mind; “Leave your country, your kindred and your Father’s house for a country which I shall show you; and I shall make you a great nation, I shall bless you and make your name famous; you are to be a blessing! I shall bless those who bless you …and all clans on earth will bless themselves by you,” Yahweh said to Abraham (JB, Genesis 12: 1-3). These words of Yahweh to the father of our faith, Abraham, is being lived and realised in the UK through our migrant presence. To a culture, land, and people who live in the clamorous clutches of rigorous secularism and consumerism, our innately in tuned religious presence is both a blessing and a witness.
The simultaneous announcement in the Vatican and at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia, Mount St. Thomas Kakkanad, (on 28 July, 2016, the Feast of St. ALphonsa), of the erection of a new eparchy in Great Britain for the Syro-Malabar faithful, with its See at Preston and
appointing Fr. Joseph (Benny Mathew) Srampickal as its first Bishop, resonated as Divine Providence through the Intercession of St. Alphonsa. St. Alphonsa has a unique role in shaping the spiritual life of every community here. With few exceptions, all migrant communities in the UK celebrate the feast (Thirunnal) of the dear sister Saint. A Special devotion and love to Alphonssama is an important part of children’s lives here, who pray to her, recognising the saint in the unknown Franciscan nun. It is not by accident that our Cardinal George Alenchery, named the Cathedral of the new diocese as St. Alphonsa Church, following the wish of the Rev. Dr. Mathew Choorapoikayil. The erection of the new Eparchy, I believe, is indeed a gift to the Syro-Malabar faithful in Divine Providence through the intercession of our dear saint. The pioneers, the clergy, and the present communities, prayed, worked hard, dreamed for this great gift; and our dear saint in her love interceded for this Divine Intervention.
Alongside the early 1970 Malayalee presence in the UK, the second phase of Migration initiated in the late 1990’s brought in hundreds of families across the Arabian Sea to the coast of the North Sea. The top-most priority of each settling community in the remotest part of the UK was to look for an opportunity to have a Syro-Malabar Mass celebrated in Malayalam. Everyone brought with them, not only their families but our culture and faith tradition. None of the migrants wished to be lost in the ocean of secularism and individualism of the West that overthrew all the moral values that preserved the vein of the society: Family. Traditionally handed over and imbued faith is a gift that must be taught and nurtured. It is the knowledge about what one believes. Knowledge produces conviction, conviction experience, and experience produces a life of authentic witness. It is the patrimony and tradition of every Christian community worldwide to preserve and grow in their faith.
Holy Catholic Church has made provisions in such a way that every indigenous church is given the right and facility to worship and grow in its own faith traditions and patrimony. This prompted the Holy See to consider erecting an eparchy for the Syro-Malabar Church; a long nourished dream come true, due to the hard work of the present and former ecclesiastical authorities and laity alike. Appointing Fr. Joseph Srampickal as the first Bishop of Preston is a landmark and beginning of a new era. Our presence here will be much more self-evident hereafter. We have now the opportunity and right to form parishes and chaplaincies of our own. Communities from Inverness to Plymouth will be under one umbrella. It is a time to acknowledge and gratefully remember the core to core commitment and persevering the spirit of pioneers, and to especially remember and acknowledge the commendable contribution made by the Rev. Fr. Thomas Parayadilyil MST, our National Coordinator. Given the limited juridical and ecclesiastical power, Fr. Thomas worked strenuously under the patronage of Rt. Rev. Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel; the results can be seen now in the new eparchy of Preston.
I remember the words of Bishop Sebastian Vadakkel. He exhorted us in a priest-gathering; “Dear brother priests, remember that you are entrusted with the care of the ‘cream’ of the Syro-Malabar Church.” The ‘cream,’ the majority of the youth of our families live as migrants either outside Kerala or India. The fact reveals the seriousness and depth with which the migrant communities should be addressed with regard to pastoral care. The youthfulness and enthusiasm of Bishop elect Fr. Joseph Srampickal will certainly be a bonus to the Syro-Malabar community in Britain. The majority of our families are below Fifty years of age, and have teenage and pre-teenage children. This age pattern itself is self-evident proof for the recommendations for the continuity of catechetical and pastoral undertakings. The Syro-Malabar church in particular having a centuries old tradition of catechesis, and Sunday schools, expect extra-care added to the already laid foundations. Syro-Malabr Sunday schools in Briton have already initiated teaching of “On the Path of Salvation”, Rakshayude pathayiloode. However, the author feels the need to adapt and restructure these texts within the context of English culture and language patterns. It is a pertinent need because most of our children are born and educated within the linguistic and cultural background of Britain.
Language is the vehicle of any culture. Celebrating Syro-Malabar Qurbana in Malayalam had the role of ‘a unifier’ in the 2000’s in the UK. Priests were and are even flown into cities so that the Malayalam Qurbana was not missed. People travelled miles, even under adverse climate conditions to attend a Malayalam Mass. Malayalam Qurbana brought people and communities together, even other apostolic communities relied on our Malayalam Qurbana for their spiritual nourishment. Our people are generally slow to mingle with local culture and people find within the Malayalam church the centre of their political, cultural, and family negotiations and deliberations. A parish church from Kerala is literally re-planted here in the UK with much more beautiful diversities. However, I do acknowledge the scepticism of some. How are we to celebrate Malayalam Qurbana meaningfully and understandably to children born, schooled and partially cultured here. Children look at ‘it’ as “too Long,” “boring,” and “not understandable.” It is quite tiring to find an amicable solution to this dilemma of our parents and children: “How to celebrate Malayalam Qurbana, meaningfully and interestingly to our children in this new generation?” One of the options is to celebrate it in English or use a transliterated version for children. However, I feel that the Qurbana gives and finds its full depth and experiential meaning when celebrated in its own language in which it has its origin, that is, Malayalam. Language carries forward a culture, and if one loses the language, one also loses the culture. This is a question which requires serious deliberation, and then recommendations to which we need to pay serious attention.
We should without fail acknowledge the wholehearted support received from both the English and the Scottish Catholic Bishop Conferences. Their unfathomable support and guidance have made us feel at home here. Many of the bishops are generous enough to maintain chaplains and have been very appreciative of our vibrant communities. I see an optimistic and positive role that the Bishop elect can carry out in re-evangelizing the Britain working alongside the local Bishops Conferences. I Particularly know, how supportive and encouraging are Rt. Rev. Bishop Stephen Robson, Bishop of Dunkeld, and Rt. Rev. Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB, Bishop of Aberdeen. We are sincerely indebted to their invaluable support and guidance.
Brexit and its after politics, I think, may possibly increase the net migration rate. If so, a predictable growth of the community can be foreseen. We have approximately 40 Syro- Malabar Priests both diocesan and religious working in Great Britain. There are three retreat centres already well-established. The enormous contributions of the Jesus Youth and the Shalom ministry are commendable. However, the sustainability and growth of the community depends up on the children and their aptitude. This will be the most significant pastoral area of concern which should begin from the individual and proper guidance oriented towards families. There should be a conducive culture created in our communities where vocations to the priesthood and religious life is promoted and looked up to with appreciation and love, not condemned and set apart for a few.
I see the possible return of religion in the whole of West, after long centuries of suppression of religion. It may be due to the recent political and inter-continental religious fanaticism that a particular group of people claiming to hold the veracity of truth. If there is a re-imagined role of religion in this part of the world, our presence here should be a blessing and an active witness. It is a new beginning, well supported by a firm foundation, with lots of hope and a vision for the future, a vision and mission for the next generation. The book of Proverbs says that where there is no vision and faith the generation perishes. We are here not to perish but to flourish with authentic counter cultural vision for our future generation. We all take this challenge to heart and venture through it with trust and confidence.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Our Holy Father Pope Francis has been graciously thoughtful to bless us with a new Eparchy. We all Gratefully remember the years of hard work by our Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alenchery, and our national coordinator Rev. Fr. Thomas Parayadiyil MST, Rev. Fr. Mattthew Choorapoikayil, and many others, who were instrumental in the realisation of this new Eparchy.