Ecumenical Winter In Kerala: A Report

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

This was the major concern expressed by Mar Eusebius, who heads the dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Malankara Orthodox Church for a decade, in his letter dated 12th May 2005. In his letter Mar Eusebius suggested that if Rome wants to pursue the traditions of the Church of Antioch the proper honor to be given to Mar Baselius would be “the Maphrian”. However, the whole debate makes a new chapter in the dispute between the Malankara Catholics and the Orthodox people. It is always an accusation against the Syro Malankara Church that it takes different means to get Orthodox believers in to communion with Rome. When Pope John Paul visited India Mar Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews I, the then Catholicos, did not mince his words when he asked the former to take measures “to stop the sheep stealing” of the Malankara Catholics. The formation of the Muvattupuzha Diocese, where the number of the Malankara Catholics is negligible, was the last occasion when these two Churches came in to a verbal war. The event was seen by the Orthodox Church as an attempt to take advantage of the split in the Malankara Church and to win their people for Rome. The present event is called as another step in this line. The new Major Archbishop is accused of assuming all titles used by the Supreme Head of the Orthodox Church: this was evident even on the day of his consecration as a bishop with the name Mar Baselius, say some historians. Now there are three Catholicoses in Kerala: One is the legitimate successor of the Catholicate established in 1912, another is the rebel Catholicos of the Patriarchal faction and the third one can be a false Catholicos, as far as Rome denies his appointment.

In the above said Papal order, which was read by Cardinal Moussa during the celebrations held at Tiruvalla, has no mention of the titles Catholicos or Malankara Metropolitan. Now the pertinent question is: Where did Mar Cyril Baselius receive the position of the Catholicos of Malankara? Does it make a communication gap between Rome and Kerala? While Rome is very clear in saying that Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselius has not been given the title of Catholicos, the Malankara Catholics tried their best to publicize the fact that what happened on February 10, 2005 was the establishment of a new Catholicate in India. From the speeches of other leaders of the Catholic Church in Kerala (see Aikya Deepam, March-April issue) like Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil we have to assume that the whole plot was done with the knowledge of KCBC. The letter, which Cardinal Casper wrote to Mar Eusebius, brought the Syro Malankara Church in a perplexed situation. Mar Baselius himself had to admit openly in the press that he had not been appointed as the Catholicos of Malankara. However, in the same breath he says that the head of the Syro Malankara Church deserves the title. According to him the title Major Archbishop is western and it means Catholicos at Malankara. If things go like this anybody can claim anything as per his choice. This is in any way not possible in the administrative set up of the Roman Catholic Church. The ire of the supporters of the self proclaimed “Catholicos” is visible in a letter available in the internet. It is said to be drafted by the lay leaders of the Malankara Catholics and it is addressed to Cardinal Casper. What surprises the reader is the language of this letter. It questions the basic right of Vatican in the internal affairs of Malankara Catholics. It says: “As usual Rome is engaged in making mistakes after mistakes- as the Latin Church pursued for centuries. All these divisions in the Church, as a matter of fact came in to existence because of the tremendous foolishness and lack of understanding of Rome-Latin Church…Did you or your staff meet any one of our bishops or laity leaders for the purpose of establishing an authentic ecumenical spirit?” Rome is accused of steering an “imposed slavery- slavery by the Latin Church.” Therefore the laity of the Malankara Catholics warns Rome: “We are the same people of that proud heritage protested and fought against Portughese and their allies.” This is an unusual tone in the correspondence between the Malankara Catholics and Rome and this can lead to a serious debate between Vatican and Trivandrum. Anyway, it is doubtful whether the usual dialogues between the Orthodox and the Catholics will happen in December as planned earlier. It is winter here and there!!!

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