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Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one of the 23 sui juris Eastern Catholic Churches. It is the third-largest Church (after the Roman Catholic Church and the Ukranian Catholic Church[?]) within the Catholic Church, and also one of the oldest. Its origins lie in India. According to legend, St. Thomas, one of the twelve Apostles, journeyed to India after the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to spread the Gospel. The legend states that St. Thomas arrived in India in 52 C.E. According to several scholars, it is highly likely that St. Thomas brought with him a few Jewish converts to Christianity, and scholars also argue that St. Thomas would have first stopped at the Jewish communities along the way and in India, for he and his companions were Jews themselves. (These Jewish colonies were created during the Jewish Diaspora, when Jews, cast out of Israel and Judah, spread throughout the region, some even ending up in India.) After preaching the Gospel to the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, the legend states that St. Thomas was able to convert several Brahmin (priestly class) Hindu families of India to Christianity. These Christians inhabited the south of India, the Malabar[?] Coast (in what is now known as the State of Kerala). Thus was born Christianity in India.

Christianity was able to survive through the centuries, and the Syrian Christians[?] of India today are believed to be the descedents of the Palestinian Jewish Christian companions of St. Thomas and the Indian Jews and Brahmins whom St. Thomas converted to Christianity.

The Portuguese encountered the Saint Thomas Christians in 1498 while exploring the Malabar coast. They greeted the Portuguese as fellow christians and as representatives of the Church of Rome. However, the Portuguese did not accept the legitimacy of local Malabar traditions, and they began to impose Latin usages upon the Saint Thomas Christians. At a synod held at Diamper[?](Udayamperoor[?]) in 1599 under the presidency of the Portuguese Archbishop of Goa, a number of such latinizations were adopted, including the appointment of Portuguese bishops[?], changes in the Eucharistic[?] liturgy, the use of Roman vestments, the requirement of clerical celibacy, and the setting up of the Inquisition. This provoked widespread discontent, which finally culminated in a decision by most Saint Thomas Christians in 1653 to break with Rome. In response, Pope Alexander VII sent Carmelite friars to Malabar. From 1662, European Carmelites continued to serve as bishops in the Syro-Malabar Church until 1896, when Pope Leo XIII[?] established three Vicariates Apostolic[?] of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry, for the Saint Thomas Christians, under the guidance of indigenous bishops. Since then, the Saint Thomas Christians in communion with Rome began to be called the Syro-Malabar Church. A fourth Vicariate Apostolic at Kottayam was established in 1911. In 1923 Pope Pius XI[?] set up a full-fledged Syro-Malabar Catholic hierarchy. This new autonomy coincided with a strong revival of the church. While in 1876 there were approximately 200,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics, they number almost four million in 2003. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life have been very strong. In November 1994 there were 27,869 religious in the Syro-Malabar Church, in addition to 20,022 Syro-Malabar religious who belonged to Latin communities. Within Kerala, the church has four archdioceses (Ernakulam, Changanacherry, Trichur and Tellicherry[?]) and nine dioceses ((Kanijirappally[?], Palai, Kottayam, Kothamangalam[?], Idukki[?], Irinjalakuda[?], Palghat[?], Thamarassery[?], and Mananthavady[?]. There are 16 different congregations of women religious, five of pontifical right. Major seminaries exist at Alwaye[?](interritual), Kottayam, Satna[?], Bangalore, and Ujjain[?].

The St. Thomas Christians are called "Syrian" Christians, and the Church is called the "Syro"-Malabar Catholic Church because the liturgical language is Syriac. Syriac is a dialect of Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus spoke. Today, however, the liturgy is usually in the vernacular, Malayalam (the language spoken in Kerala). The Syro-Malabar liturgy is descended from the Chaldean[?] (East Syrian) liturgy, but many latinisms had been added. In 1934 Pope Pius XI[?] initiated a process of liturgical reform that sought to restore the Oriental nature of the Syro-Malabar rite. A restored eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pius XII in 1957 and was introduced in 1962. Despite a reaffirmation of the main lines of the 1962 rite by the Oriental Congregation[?] in 1985, there has been strong resistance to this reform. In January 1996 Pope John Paul II presided over the opening of a special synod of bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church in Rome which was to attempt to overcome factional disputes that have centered on the proposed liturgical reforms. In 1998 Pope John Paul II gave the Syro-Malabar bishops full authority in liturgical matters in a further effort to facilitate a resolution of the dispute.

Relations between the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and the Latin Church[?] in India have often been marked by tension, particularly regarding the question of the establishment of Syro-Malabar jurisdictions in other parts of India to care for the many Malabar Christians who have emigrated there. In 1977 Rome began to establish Syro-Malabar eparchies[?] in parts of India where Latin dioceses already existed. Now there are twelve such eparchies: Adilabad[?],Belthangady[?], Bijnor[?], Chanda, Gorakhpur[?], Jagdalpur[?], Kalyan[?], Rajkot[?], Sagar[?], Satna[?], Thuckalay[?] and Ujjain[?].

Until 1992 there was no single head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, but two metropolitan dioceses (Ernakulam and Changanacherry) of equal rank. On December 16, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to Major Archepiscopal rank and appointed Cardinal Antony Padiyara[?] of Ernakulam-Angamaly[?] as the first Major Archbishop[?]. He retired in 1996, and was succeeded by Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil[?] in December 1999.There are six organized Syro-Malabar Catholic communities in the United States and one in Canada with a Syro-Malabar eparchy[?] at Chicago.

There are also several other Churches that claim the distinction of being "Churches of St. Thomas Christians[?]," such as the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church[?] (also in communion with Rome), the Malankara Orthodox Church (in communion with the Oriental Orthodox Churches[?]), and the Mar Thoma Syrian Church[?] (a reformed Church in communion with the Anglican Communion).



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