by MICHAEL OTTO
The first bishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church to visit New Zealand has heard of the deep love that migrants who belong to this rite have for their ancient liturgy.
Bishop Abraham Mar Julios from Kerala in South India visited Auckland and other North Island cities in late May. He celebrated Mass in the Syro-Malankara Rite at St Mary’s Church, Avondale, on May 27.
The previous day he had concelebrated Mass with Bishops Patrick Dunn and Robin Leamy at Fr Alfredo Garcia’s ordination in Auckland. He also celebrated Syro-Malankara rite Masses in Hastings, Hamilton and Palmerston North during his visit and met Bishop Charles Drennan.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is an Eastern Church in communion with Rome. It traces its origins to the evangelisation in India by St Thomas the Apostle in the first century. Its liturgy, which is Syrian Orthodox in character, uses the Syriac language, which is a derivative of Aramaic — the tongue spoken by Jesus Christ.
The Syro-Malankara Church is a self-governing and fully autonomous Church in communion with the Pope. The Catholic Church consists of 23 rites, the largest of which is the Latin rite.
Bishop Julios, whose see is the Muvattupuzha diocese in India, told NZ Catholic the Syro-Malankara community in New Zealand is very small, made up of about 20 families spread across several centres.
“Our faithful are very attached to the [Syro-Malankara] liturgy. That’s why we care about providing them with the liturgy, and if that sense for the liturgy is not nourished, we are in danger of losing them to an orthodox Church, which is not in communion with Rome.”
But there are no Syro-Malankara rite priests in New Zealand.
Bishop Julios was visiting several countries learning about the situation of Syro-Malankara communities in each, and whether there are sufficient numbers to send a priest of that rite.
There are too few families in New Zealand to support a priest, Bishop Julios said, but two priests are being sent to minister in Australia soon. New Zealand families might be able to arrange visits, but cost is a factor, he said.
Nonetheless, pastoral concerns remain, he added.
“We are very much attached to the oriental tradition, to the Syriac language and the liturgy. Liturgy for us is not simply a rational thing, because our liturgy is very solemn. Sunday liturgy including the morning prayers will take two hours. People never complain. They want to get into that experience.”
Syro-Malankara Catholics do worship at Latin rite Masses, but many find it doesn’t move them in the way their own rite does.
“If liturgical experience touches your heart, you don’t look at your watch. If I am permitted to make a comparison, Roman liturgy is very skeletal, very abstract, very conceptual. Ours is more celebrative, the singing, the coloured vestments, a lot of incense. There is more colour in it, there is music in it.”
He hopes someday a priest from his rite might be able to study theology in New Zealand and simultaneously take pastoral care of the Malankara faithful living in New Zealand.
Bishop Julios said he is grateful to Bishop Dunn for helping facilitate his visit and accommodation.