How to Renew Syro Malabar Church in USA?
“Light a candle instead of cursing the darkness. Do something constructive instead of complaining. You do your best; God will do the rest, because even a mustard seed of faith in God can move mountains.” These thoughts prompted just a few well-meaning people in New York, Boston and Chicago to conduct a telephone conference and consultation on Feb.28, at 9 PM for over an hour.
The subject of discussion was how to reduce the mounting tension, bitterness and in-fights in the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) in USA, especially among the laity in the 23 parishes and 35 mission stations and between the clergy and the laity, due to petty differences on liturgical worship – like claver cross, crucifix, altar curtain, its colour etc. Other topics of conflict are putting up posh churches beyond one’s means and who should manage these material assets and how, instead of building up Christian communities that pray together and stay together to grow together
On the eve of the communist revolution in Russia, it is said, the bishops and the clergy were discussing and disagreeing on the colour of the vestments to be used for the following day’s liturgical worship in the churches, but the bloody revolution that broke out the following morning decided it to be RED, and the churchmen were packed off to dungeons or concentration camps. None of the participants in the telephone conference wanted to see that happen to SMC here or it reduced to zero as some fighting factions want.
Light in Darkness
The idea of a telephone conference to get light in darkness was first mooted by Thomas M. Thomas of New Jersey, Vice-President of SM Catholic Congress of North America, its two term national treasure and one of its founding fathers in 1990s. It was supported by Sri Thomas Koovalloor of Yonkers, New York, and former President of the Bronx chapter of the SMC Congress, also former trustee of St.Thomas Church and founder of the St.Thomas Malayalam School in Bronx. They together with a few others decided to get also Dr.James Kottoor, passing through Chicago, whose recent article: Syromalabar Church in USA, brought up the whole issue to public attention.
That article was subsequently published in “South Asia Mail,” dated Feb.20th & www.emalayalee.com, both internet weeklies and in the website: http://syromalabarfaith.blogspot.com/, where it can be read even now by people in US and abroad. A more critical blog for comparative study is: http://syromalabarvoice.blogspot.com/. What emerged from the over one hour-long telephone conference is summarised below as a list of dozen suggestions:
1. The present craze for putting up fashionable churches in the name of multiplying the number of Syro-Malabar Rite parishes must be discouraged by all means.
2. The SMC hierarchy in Kerala must be properly advised against the dangers of making the SMC in USA a carbon copy of the SMC in Kerala – a Rite-centred worship and church-centred politics to multiply Episcopal thrones and parishes.
Holy Pastors Needed
3. What the Syro-malabar community needs in US urgently is St. John Marie Viani like pastoral minded holy priests to take care of the spiritual as well as the socio-economic needs of the jobless or job-lost newly arrived immigrants who are at sea to find a foothold to stand on their feet and get integrated into this unfamiliar mainstream of western culture. It is not enough that priests who come from Kerala are able to take care of the Malayalam speaking older generation but must also be quite proficient in English to deal effectively with today’s English speaking children and general public into which SM community has to be integrated.
4. The vast majority of the present batch of clergy are seen as money-minded (some are said to be millionaires), interested in having a good time here, not pliable to the direction of the bishop since many of them have either green card or citizenship and unwilling to go back to Kerala for lame reasons.
5.Promotors of Malayalam based churches should learn from the bitter experience of other linguistic communities from Europe who built their own churches here years ago, which are now abandoned and laid vacant just because their English speaking younger generation has merged into the general public to attend liturgies in English in Latin or other churches.
6. Due to terrible shortage of priests in USA many of the Latin churches are facing closure and so they are only too happy to offer their unused church space for SMC community to conduct their own liturgies. This is what is done even in Europe where the same Church is shared by various denominations – Catholic, Lutheran; Protestant etc. instead of building own churches.
Transfer, Elections & Transparency
7. The rules prevalent in SMC of transferring Parish priests every 3 or 4 years should be strictly implemented since in some parishes problems crop up only because the same priest continues even after 10 years.
8. Similarly friction in the parish community is created because of the one man rule in many parishes of the priest who nominates people to parish and block councils and administrative offices instead of finding proper persons through election or consensus.
9. To prevent mismanagement of funds transparent accounting of every penny received and spent in the parish must be introduced where it is not done. In this connection the practice in many Latin parishes of publishing the Sunday collections in the parish bulletin of the following Sunday is worth imitating.
10. Many parish priests are blamed by the faithful for using their Sunday sermon more for fleecing the faithful than for preaching the good news. As a result priests who insist that people pay their tithe every month are made a laughing stock by Voice blog people who make shocking comparisons of the income of priests through salary and donations which are multiples of what an ordinary nurse makes.
11. To make the telephone conference group representative of the SMC laity, the organisers are going to get people of good will from the existing 24 parishes and from the Faith and Voice blog groups to wipe out divisions among the laity and hand over the leadership they have taken to better qualified youngsters in a future general body election.
12. Finally it was decided to appraise the Synod of the SMC in Kerala of these decisions and suggestions in order to get their blessing, approval and guidance.
Depending on the response from Bishops, clergy and laity in various parishes, a Fact Finding Committee or an Enquiry Commission may also be set up to find out what is the best way to go ahead. In any case the pioneers of this Telephone Conference have unanimously made it clear they have no other intention other than doing the work of John the Baptist in the Desert -- making straight the Way of the Lord, so that He alone may increase and they may decrease and even fade out, as and when a new set of enlightened lay leaders take over to guide the Syro Malabar community through the narrow path shown by the Lord, especially during this Lenten season we have started.
The writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org,
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