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Vicar General

Vicar General

It was in one early morning that I got a phone call from Antony Planthara telling me that a new diocese was created for the Syro-Malabar Catholics and that Fr.Jacob Angadiath was appointed the first Bishop.I called Fr.Angadiath a few hours later and offered my congratulations.He had just returned from the Archdiocese of Chicago after being officially intimated of his appointment.

In July 2001, I went to Chicago for the Syro-Malabar Catholic convention as well as for the Consecration.

Fr.Vayalil and Fr.Thomas Puthiyadom joined me while in Chicago for the Convention and we stayed in a private house .

After a few weeks, I was told by Fr.Antony Kurilacherry before his departure for India that I would get a call from Chicago and that I should accept the offer. Later. when Abp.Powathil came to Washington D.C. to stay with me for a couple of days, he told me that I would be asked to be the Vicar General and that I should accept the offer.

It was a tough time of decision for me.I felt very comfortable in my life in Washington D.C. I enjoyed my pastoral ministry there. I had also very good friends. I also knew that it would not be easy working with Malaylees as there would also be groups and cliques among them. I did not like to spend any more of my days in a place that has a severe winter weather. I was very restless that night reflecting on the suggestion of the Archbishop.In the end, I decided to accept the offer. Later, when Bp.Mar Angadiath called me to find out whether I would be willing to accept the offer, I gave my consent. Once more, I had to decide on change and move.

It was at one of the clergy meetings in Chicago that the Bishop made the announcement of the appointment of the Vicars General. He did not want me to move to Chicago, then.

But when the Bishop fell ill and when he was not able to carry on his duties properly, he wanted me to move to Chicago.

Hence, I decided to move to Chicago in the last week of August after celebrating my birthday at St.Patrick’s.

There was a great farewell party at the church. Many people invited me out for dinners and wrote very appreciative letters.

One of the memorable things was my meeting with Mr.Bill Conway,the MD of the Carlyle Corporation.He met me after one of the morning masses and when he learned that I was leaving for Chicago, he gave his business card and told me to contact him at any time when I felt any need for assistance in my pastoral ministry.He sent me later very generous contributions to help the diocese on different occasions.He helped the diocese when I organized the first youth Conference at Mundeline Seminary, Chicago .Also the diocese was helped to establish communication instruments when we moved to our Cicero office.

I have to remember specially the great and generous help from Abraham Kallrakal (Ittyrachan) and George Kallarakal (Vakachan) who offered to drive me to Chicago from Washington D.C. with all my books and belongings.I am deply thankful to them for their great sacrifice and love. Because of their help, my move to Chicago became much easier.

Moving to Bellwood from Washington D.C. was going to some rural place in India.

It is a small town , with no activities etc.The church had a small room for me to stay.But somehow I did not feel any difficulty in living there even though it was a strange place to live.There would be a lot of noise on weekends from the people who used to rent the adjacent hall for weekend parties.

It was a small group that came for the morning masses and not the kind of people going for work that I used to meet at St.Patrick's in Washington D.C. I really missed the congregation of Washington D.C.they were mostly professionals and working in important firms and offices in Washington D.C.always , there would be new people for the masses.

The people of Bellwood church were not aware of the development of the diocese and hence,they were complaining that the diocese was not active.I called a meeting of the people after one Sunday mass and explained to them about the establishment of parishes and missions in different parts of the country.

I did also encourage the starting of a Diocesan monthly called,The Syro-Malabar News which has become defunct now.

The first trip we made together as a curia was to the Orange County when a new but a small church was purchased and consecrated for the community there.Parishes were established in Houston, Philadelphia and Florida

I had to go to Florida a few times for negotiations with the Archbishop of Miami for the transfer of the church they bought for the Indian community for the use of the Syro-Malabar Catholics in Florida.

Within the last ten years, more than 20 parishes were established and I am glad that I was there to support the initiatives from many of these parishes in their growth and development.

It was also possible to hold a National Conference of college-going youths at the Mundeline Seminary in 2004.It was held because of the requests of many of the parents to have something done for the youths.Many parents and well-wishers supported the Conference and it was a youth team under Jensen,Manoj,Sunil and Sindhu that took up the responsibility of running the Conference.I twas attended by youth representatives of the major regions and parishes of the diocese.

Reflections

When I look back after so many years of ministry in the priesthood, I am thankful to the Lord for all the graces given to me in my life.

The only aim in my life was to make known the name of Jesus and make people aware of the immensity of His love.It is for that I became a priest and I have remained faithful to that call in my life.My Lord is everything in my life.I have used all the opportunities and ministerial position I got in my life to spread the love of Jesus.In my life at the college, I was very careful not to do anything that would distract people from that love that Jesus taught us to have in our lives.

At the beginning of my seminary life I made a promise never to use at any time in my life any derogatory words about others . I was always watchful about my words and comments when interacting with people who opposed my views and policies.

I would tell myself and others what would we gain if we create situations for others to fall away from the love of Christ.

When I was the Principal of the college, even when I had to take very drastic actions, I took maximum care through my words to parents and students to make them realize that there was no hatred or hostility in my actions and words.

My intention was to create the best atmosphere in the college, intellectually and professionally.I was happy to encourage all kinds of activities that would enhance the lives of the students as well as of the staff.

What we need in our life is respect and consideration for others. Our Christian faith should make us more reverential and sensitive.Instead of that, very often find the dominance of arrogance and dominance in our life under the guise of spirituality.

I strongly believed in a greater role of the laity in the Church. As my father was a bank professional and one of the people who got a University education which was very rare in his time, I was brought up under the shadow of a greater awareness of the power and capabilities of the laity.Also, as all of my life time was spent with University teachers, I was always respectful of the talents of the laity.I firmly believe that we should do all that is possible to make our lay faithful emerge as partners in our ministry .

In my ministry among the Syro-Malabr Catholics , I have always given a lot of emphasis to the role of the laity.This is a country, where the laity can play a greater role in the fields of evangelization and witnessing. The mindsets of priests and people have to undergo a sea change. The lay people still hang on to the coattails of the clergy for leadership , instead of chalking out a way for themselves as responsible Catholics who have the capability and faith to witness to Christ in their professions.

Some of us , priests, still cling to very narrow interpretations of the laws of the church and make as many difficulties as possible for the laity when they ask for some flexibility and adjustments.We carry with us some of the traditional mindsets that we have acquired in Kerala.

There should be more flexibility and willingness to adapt to the changes we see around us, without forgetting the importance that is to be given to the fostering of the faith in Christ among our people.If we make the practice of faith a burden for our people, then, they would be reluctant to belong to our community.Our intention is to spread the faith and make people the followers of our Lord.

The establishment of the Diocese is a wonderful opportunity for us to use the resources of the country to make our ministry of evangelization more effective.Instead of bringing every antiquated tradition of our mother land, we should strive to help our people to establish strong roots of faith in this country in a stable manner.

The Syro-Malabar Catholics should also get involved in the Catholic issues of this country as responsible and mature Catholics.Most of our people , instead of developing their personal initiatives, still want to depend on the clergy for a role in the pubic forum.Many of them are satisfied with the minimum and they are satisfied with the roles they get as CCD teachers or as altar servers.

This country offers a lot of opportunities to the laity for their further education in the faith. Those who have leadership skills should become prepared to be public spokespersons of the faith.

We have a lot of people who have proved themselves to be very successful in their professional fields.When it comes to matters of faith, they become silent witnesses and do not take upon themselves the responsibility of articulating their faith in the public was well as living it.

Many of the priests who work in the diocese are also reluctant to use their spare time for improving their knowledge of the faith.They still continue here their way of life in India and do not improve themselves professionally , making use of the resources available here.With books and educational tools available at their door step, they can do much to improve their educational advancement.

We do have to establish very good links with our neighboring parishes and dioceses and become partners with them in the spread of the faith.

Our young people who are in colleges should be encouraged to approach their faith in a mature way.With the minimum of the religious knowledge they have acquired in the CCD classes , they won't be able to confront the skepticism and questioning attitudes they face in their very liberally-oriented class rooms.They have to become familiar with the works of intellectuals who are good practitioners of the faith.

More importance should be given to the time constraints of the liturgical celebrations. The priests should show much more awareness in the preparation of their sermons and the sermons should be delivered with great effectiveness and zest.

Taking into account of the culture in which we live, we have to show more flexibility and understanding in dealing with one another.

It is often forgotten that our children are growing up in a new land and that they are citizens of the US and not of India.The traditions and rituals imported from India have no meaning for our young people here.

The Diocese should have a vision for the future with regard to making the faith more relevant and meaningful to the people.

Small disputes and squabbles among our people suck up a lot of energy from the community.Sometimes the attitudes and disputes would make us wonder whether we are Christians.

The authorities should also be in the forefront in the expression of sensitivity and compassion.Opposing points of view should not be treated as inimical.It is necessary for pastors and those who hold positions of authority to be more pro-active.They should take into account with due seriousness points of view that are not in consonance with theirs.







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