WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Members of Edmonton's Catholic Syro-Malankara Community prepare to process into St. Theresa Church for Holy Mass on September 2.
Edmonton's tiny Syro-Malankara Catholic community welcomed its global leader at an afternoon Mass Sept. 2 at St. Theresa Church.
Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos, 54, visited St. Theresa's Parish, and celebrated Holy Mass with Auxiliary Bishop Greg Bittman, Ukrainian Bishop David Motiuk, as well as many priests from both rites.
Born Isaac Thottunkal, Cleemis is the catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. The head of a particular church outside the Roman Empire was known as catholicos, a term which means "head of the Church."
The catholicos has all of the privileges and authorities over his catholicate (area of jurisdiction) and is the supreme authority in his Church.
Pope Benedict elevated him to the College of Cardinals of the Catholic Church last November, making him the first cardinal of the Syro-Malankara Church.
"Our people have migrated to different parts of the world, and they always find ways and means to get to the pastoral care of our own priests, to grow in our faith and in our culture," said Cleemis.
Over the past 20 years, many Syro-Malankara faithful migrated to Edmonton. Starting with seven families, they formed a prayer group and held biweekly prayer meetings at a member's home. Holy Mass was celebrated occasionally at St. Theresa's Church whenever a Malankara priest was available.
The Edmonton community has grown from about 22 members three years ago to more than 50 today.
A committee was formed to lead this new mission in Edmonton. Among the committee members with the Malankara Catholic Association of Alberta is Saji Varghese, who recognized the importance of maintaining and safeguarding their valued traditions and celebrating Mass in the Malankaran language.
"When Father Thomas Puthuparambil came about a year and a half ago, the unity started. We had our own language and liturgy at Holy Mass," said Varghese.
Today, Holy Mass in the Syro-Malankara rite and Evening Prayer are held weekly at St. Agnes Church, led by Puthuparambil. Mass is also celebrated the first Sunday of the month at St. Theresa's Church.
The main message of the cardinal's homily was the need to share the faith with one's neighbours. He emphasized that this can be done without being preachy but, rather, in an honest and straightforward way.
"Our time demands more witnessing to others than arguing with other people. If you're going to argue with people regarding your faith, you might not be able to achieve satisfaction.
"When you witness and exhibit to others, they see how Jesus Christ is good to you, how he saves you, how he behaves with you in moments of crisis and joy and challenges," he explained.
"The world needs our witnessing very much today. In this world of noise, one has to go to a world of silence and witnessing."
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos addresses the congregation at St. Theresa Church.
The cardinal also celebrated Mass at Santa Maria Goretti Church during his three-day visit to Edmonton.
Those of the Syro-Malankaran tradition face challenges in Canada, being small in numbers. As the cardinal asked, since Jesus was born in Asia, how did Christianity get out to all countries?
"Christianity was in fact born and got nurtured in Asia, in the Middle East, but now it is found everywhere. Therefore, Christianity is to be nurtured in its own local cultures and traditions, at the same time keeping the same faith. The Catholic Church is the best example of this," he said.
Wherever they go, acceptance of Jesus as their Lord is an unchanging focal point.
"Plurality and diversity are a reality in the world. We have to accept that because we cannot impose uniformity to any culture, any people. But unity of faith in the Catholic Church is always ensured. However, expression of faith is always different, and this is the beauty of the Catholic Church," the cardinal said in an interview.
Deepak Isaac, the primary organizer of the cardinal's visit to Edmonton, noted that Pope John Paul II said the Syro-Malankaran is the fastest growing rite in the Church.
"This rite is not different from any other rite. The only essential thing is that the language is a little bit different. Our beliefs are all the same, that Jesus is our saviour."
In India, religious diversity is encouraged, said Isaac. Peace and harmony among people of all faiths is an important concept to him, and that is something evident in Edmonton.
"Apart from Christianity, we have Hinduis and Muslims there. The place where we were living, harmony is already there among religions. So when our cardinal got installed in Rome, the leaders of our other religious communities also went along with him to celebrate. That's the culture we want to bring over here too," said Isaac.
A short video was shown immediately after Mass, which provided some history of the Syro-Malankara Church. Visitors learned that Thomas the Apostle is credited for founding the Indian Church in 52 AD, with a faith that had many similarities to Judaism. These with the Syro-Malankara Church are often referred to as St. Thomas Christians.
In 1498, the Portuguese came to South India, bringing missionaries with them to carry out evangelistic work to establish churches in communion with Rome. These missionaries were eager to bring the Indian Church under the pope's authority. They succeeded in their efforts in 1599 with the Synod of Diamper.
The Malankara church inherited the beautiful liturgy from the West Syrian bishops who arrived in India beginning in 1653. The liturgical and spiritual patrimony of the Malankara church is that of Antiochene Rite, though its celebration is uniquely Indian.
The Divine Liturgy of the Malankara Church is referred to as the Holy Qurbono. The Qurbono - a Syrian word meaning "offering" - involves praise, thanksgiving, worship and adoration.
The Antiochian Liturgy as celebrated in the Malankara Church is rich in symbols, poetic in language, and speaks to the heart of the worshipper.
"Anytime that our kids see us praying and praising our Lord Jesus Christ, what's the importance of that in their lives?" said Maju Sebastian, treasurer for the Edmonton Syro-Malankara mission.
"I personally believe that is transforming the families to get away from all the things like drugs, alcohol, things that are a menace to society."