//Blessed Kunjachan: Great missionary among dalits in India

Blessed Kunjachan: Great missionary among dalits in India

Blessed Kunjachan had the reputation of a holy man even while he was alive. “People irrespective of caste and religion, used to approach him in their manifold needs and they got favours through his prayers and blessings,” Father Kurien Mathoth, Vice Postulator for the Cause of Blessed Kunjachan says in this tribute to him.

Blessed Kunjachan (Fr. Augustine), son of Mani and Elizabeth Thevarparampil, was born on 1st April 1891, at Ramapuram in the diocese of Palai, Kerala, India. He was ordained priest on 17th December 1921.

Fr. Augustine was short of stature and that was the origin of his pet name `Kunjachan’ (Little Priest) in the local language, Malayalam. He was just an ordinary priest who could not claim eminence in any field of human activity. But he was humble, kind, service-minded and charitably disposed to the poor and the downtrodden people. He stayed in his own parish, St. Augustine’s church Ramapuram as one among the three assistant parish priests for more than 40 years, working specially for the uplift of the Dalits (suppressed people) – the untouchables.

The sole concern of Kunjachan was apparently the well being of the Dalits. He led a life devoid of any rest. Imitating Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, he went after the sheep every where. Meeting them in their houses or fields of work was his daily programme. He could call each one by his/ her name and they rejoiced profusely when Kunjachan called them so. He addressed them `My children’ and they in their turn spoke about him, `our Father’.

Infinite patience and perseverance were needed to continue this activity for long. Very often it was after going to their huts several times – even eighteen times! -that some received baptism. Some tried to avoid him; some hid themselves at his arrival in their humble huts; some excused themselves for not having maintained their promise. But nothing could dissuade him from his arduous mission.

He wanted to bring them all to the lap of the Church. He used to say: "They are simple people. They will become better". His pastoral care for these poor souls can be compared to the zealous activities of St. John Maria Vianny (Curé de Ars), the patron saint of the parish priests.

Kunjachan was a man of intense spiritual life. He was a man of prayer. He spent long hours before the Blessed Sacrament early in the morning and in the evening when returned after the day’s labour.

Kunjachan was fully aware of his limitations and shortcomings. He was neither an orator, nor an organiser, writer or scholar. He did not consider himself to have achieved anything in the eyes of the world. He thought of himself as a humble servant in the service of God, through the service of his poor brethern.

He took delight in announcing to them the Good News of the Lord.

It is the singular achievement of Kunjachan that he had been able to baptise by himself no less than 5000 Dalits (earlier the term `Harijan’ was used). He is to be counted as one of the foremost missionaries among the Dalits in India.

In fact, he neither made use of eloquent sermons nor of any human techniques in order to give them the " Christ" of whom he was the herald. He preached with his works, practising charity, and always sublime and more dedicated.

Kunjachan led a very simple life for the poor and wished to be with them even after death. He spent everything he had for the poor. The Blessed who was a priest for more than 50 years, wrote in his Testament: "I do not possess anything either as landed property or as cash account…. After my death, my funeral must be conducted in the most simple way. Ever since 1926, I had been staying with the Harijan (Dalit) Christians. Even after death, I would like to be with them. Therefore my dead body should be buried where the Harijan Christians are buried".

After a brief period of serious illness Kunjachan passed away on 16th October 1973 at the age of 82. At his death the children and others told that `a saint has passed away’. At his funeral the priest who preached the panegyric, spoke well of his holiness in life, apostolic zeal, kindness of heart, love for the poor and other outstanding virtues. And towards the end of the speach he said to the surprise of all, "we are participating in the funeral of a saint. We have one more mediator in heaven."

Kunjachan had the reputation of a holy man even while he was alive. People irrespective of caste and religion, used to approach him in their manifold needs and they got favours through his prayers and blessings. Within a few days after his death his tomb at Ramapuram became a centre of pilgrimage for people from far and wide.

The process of Beatification and Canonization started on 11th August 1987 at Ramapuram, bestowing upon him the title, `Servant of God’. The `Positio super vita et virtutibus’ was
completed after ten years and was submitted at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints on 12th February 1997.

The `Positio’ on the heroic practice of virtues of the saintly priest was approved by Pope John Paul II on 22nd June 2004 and he was declared `Venerable’.

Meanwhile the process of the miraculous cure of the clubfoot of a boy was undertaken, and the findings were sent to Rome for consideration. After a thorough investigation of the miraculous nature of the cure, made by competent personnel in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI approved it, opening the way for Beatification. Venerable Kunjachan was Beatified by His Em. Card. Varkey Vithayathil, Major Arch bishop of the Syro-Malabar Church on 30th April 2006 at the very same village Ramapuram where he was born, worked, died and buried.

The Feast of Blessed Kunjachan is celebrated on the 16th of October every year.

Now let us pray that Blessed Kunjachan may be elevated to Sainthood in the Holy Catholic Church in the near future.