Fr. 'James' Chitteth
EDMONTON — For the most part, the congregation at St. Maria Goretti Parish is elderly. That's the first thing Father Mathai Chacko Chitteth noticed when he took over as pastor of the city's Italian parish in February.
So one of Chitteth's plans is to rejuvenate the 1,500-family parish. "We need to invite the youth and the children to the church," he said in an interview.
The 51-year-old priest, known as Father James, is committed to restoring the unity of the parish, which he said has undergone difficult times in recent years. "One of the things is to grow in unity as one family."
"I come from the southern state of Kerala, India, land of coconuts," he smiled.
Chitteth was appointed pastor Feb. 12 for "hopefully" three years. He replaces Father George Puramadathil, who left for Koltayam, Kerala, to take over as provincial superior of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception for all of India.
The order has more than 500 members in 20 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Puramadathil, 45, took over the reins of the order's Indian province from Chitteth, who was superior for the past six years. The province is made up of about 100 friars, priests and brothers.
A priest for almost 25 years, Chitteth was educated and ordained in Rome and served on his order's general council in Rome for about six years prior to becoming provincial superior in India.
"I spent 11 years in Italy so I know the Italian people who seem to be very happy about my presence," he said.
Chitteth has also been a seminary rector, director of vocations and pastor in India. He served for two years as a pastor of a parish of 200 families that was largely organized in family units or small Christian communities. Each community meets on its own once a week for prayers and then all attend Sunday Mass in the parish church. More than 90 per cent of parishioners show up for Sunday Mass.
Chitteth says his priesthood is due to having been raised in a family of 11 children in a rural village where the Christian faith was very deeply felt and lived. It helped that his home was a short distance from the church and that his parents encouraged him to help at Mass.
From the age of eight, Chitteth has been attending Mass every day. He was ordained in 1986. Two of his sisters joined religious orders and have been serving in Haiti and Italy for more than 30 years.
Chitteth is excited about his appointment, although he wonders about Edmonton weather.
"It's too extreme for me," he says. "I come from 35 degree weather. In my place there is no winter. This is challenging for me."