Ecumenical Winter In Kerala: A Report

Written By: on Jun 23rd, 2009 and filed under Columns.


Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome, wrote to H. G. Philippose Mar Eusebius (dt. 18th June 2005), the president of the Commission for Inter Church Relations of the Orthodox Church: “the title of the Catholicos has not been given by the Holy See (Pope) to His Grace Cyril Mar Baselius”. He continued to say that the only title given to Mar Baselius was the Major Archbishop. The cardinal reiterated the fact that neither there is a provision for such a title in the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches nor had it been pronounced by Cardinal Moussa I Daud, the representative of Vatican during “his stay in Kerala” when Mar Baselius was honored as Major Archbishop. Cardinal Casper wrote all these in response to the letters of Mar Eusebius and Fr. John Mathews, the secretary of Inter Church Relations Committee. Both made it clear that if Vatican is not ready to respect the history and traditions of the Orthodox Church it doesn’t want to continue the annual ecumenical dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church, which has been continuing since 1989.

The whole story began when the Syro Malankara Rite of the Catholic Church and its prelate Mar Baselius had claimed that the latter was enthroned as the Catholicos of Malankara (Catholic) Church. Mar Eusebius conveyed the protest of the Malankara Orthodox Church in person to Cardinal Casper and Monsinjor Johann Bonny, who are responsible for the inter Church relations of Rome, during his visit to Vatican on 4th March. On their advice he met also Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daud, the prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, on March 5th. All these gentlemen assured Mar Eusebius that Rome has never offered the position of Catholicos to Mar Cyril Baselius. They handed over Mar Eusebius a copy of the Papal order regarding this in English as well as in Latin.

The above Papal order recognizes sui juris the Syro Malankara Church as a Major Arch-Episcopal Church. This is in recognition to those Catholics who left the Malankara Church in 1930 and became a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Mar Ivanios was the leader of this group who got the Sacred Pallium from Pope Pius XI on June 11, 1932. This Church has got 4,10,000 believers all over the world under five dioceses: Trivandrum, Tiruvalla, Bathery, Marthandam and Muvattupuzha. The 6,200 families of this denomination reside in different states of India outside Kerala and they come under the supremacy of the Latin bishops of their respective territories. Those who are emigrants in USA and Europe have got an Apostolic Visitor bishop nominated by Pope. There are 632 priests and 2030 sisters in the Church under 16 different religious congregations. Mar Cyril Baselius will be the Major Archbishop and head of this group, which is other wise called as Syro Malankara Rite of the Roman Catholic Church with his head quarters in Trivandrum. The Syro Malabar Rite and Latin Rite of Kerala have Major Archbishops of their own. By the new recognition the Syro Malankara Church becomes “an autonomous Church in the Holy Catholic Communion”. It can have its own Episcopal synod and the Major Arch Bishop is equal to the heads of other Oriental Churches who are parts of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church of India and its supreme head Mar Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II has no intention to interfere in the administration of the Catholic Church. What offended the Orthodox people was rather the ulterior motifs of Malankara Catholics in calling bishop Cyril Mar Baselius the Catholicos of Malankara and on some occasions even the Malankara Metropolitan. It is well known to Rome that these are titles used by the supreme head of the Orthodox Church of India since Sept 15, 1912. Rome recognizes the Malankara Orthodox Church as an autonomous and autocephalous Church and representatives from all the Rites of Catholic Church come for the dialogues held every year. In spite of some theological disagreements Rome and Kottayam maintain a good ecumenical fraternity. This becomes distorted when the Syro Malankara Church called Mar Cyril Baselius the Catholicos of Malankara.

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