By Robin Gomes
India-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church (SMC) on Sunday inaugurated a new diocese that Pope Francis had announced last year to provide pastoral care to India’s SMC faithful living outside their existing dioceses. Shamshabad Eparchy in Telengana state, became the 31st diocese of the eastern rite Church on 7 January with a Holy Mass and ceremony that included the installation of its first head, Bishop Raphael Thattil.
The event was attended by 55 bishops from across India, including Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Baselios Clemis, the head of the Syro-Malankara Church, Vatican officials and hundreds of priests, nuns and lay people from across the country.
Bishop Thattil the Auxiliary bishop of Trichur Archdiocese from 2010, has been serving as Apostolic Visitor since 2014 to SMC faithful outside existing dioceses. He told the gathering, “my ministry is to spread the gospel and it shall be done in communion with all.”
At Sunday’s inauguration ‘Premmarg’, a charitable trust was also launched.
In a letter to all the bishops of India dated 9 October 2017, the Pope had announced the creation of Shamshabad Diocese and appointed Bishop Thattil as its first bishop, restoring the ‘all India jurisdiction’ of the Syro Malabar Church.
The Holy Father also created the Diocese of Hosur and appointed as its bishop Fr. Sebastian (Jobby) Pozholiparampil, and extended the jurisdiction of the existing dioceses of Ramanathapuram and Thuckalay.
The territory of Shamshabad Diocese comprises 23 states excluding of the 30 already existing SMC dioceses out of which 14 dioceses are outside Kerala, covering two thirds of the country. Bishop Thattil will serve about 1,20,000 faithful spread across 100 cities in the country and has 11 functional churches and seven under construction with around 88 priests and a few hundred nuns.
Church in India
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is the apex body of the Catholic Church of India, that comprises three ritual Churches: the Latin rite and two eastern rites – the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, which claim their origin from St. Thomas the Apostle. Of the 172 dioceses in India, 132 belong to the Latin rite. The SMC also has four dioceses outside India in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US.
Fruitful harmonious cooperation among rites
In his letter to the Indian bishops, Pope Francis urged for “a fruitful and harmonious cooperation” among the bishops of the three ritual Churches of India, as they reach out to provide pastoral care to their respective faithful spread out in various parts of the country.
The Pope noted problems and tensions among the ritual dioceses due to overlapping jurisdiction. “In a world where large numbers of Christians are forced to migrate,” he said, “overlapping jurisdictions have become customary and are increasingly effective tools for ensuring the pastoral care of the faithful while also ensuring full respect for their ecclesial traditions.” “In India itself, overlapping jurisdictions should no longer be problematic, for the Church has experienced them for some time, such as in Kerala,” the Pope wrote.
The smaller Syro-Malankara Church already has the provision to provide pastoral care to its faithful throughout India. Pope Francis has now extended the provision also to the Syro-Malabar Church.