CyberNoon.COM Friday, November 24, 2006
Malayali Christians upset with remarks made by Benedict XVI
A remark reportedly made by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Square in September that St. Thomas may not have evangelised in South India has kicked off a row not only in Kerala, but also in the city. Mumbai has a sizeable number of Kerala Christians who are unhappy with the statements by the Holy Father.
The issue came to light following an article written by George Nedungatt SJ, a faculty member of the Oriental Pontifical Institute in Rome, in the English edition of ‘Sathyadeepam’, a Catholic publication of Keralites.
The Christian community in Kerala believes that St. Thomas, who is one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, came to this part of the country in A.D. 52 and established seven churches. The community considers St. Thomas as the ‘Father in Faith’ of Christians in India.
However, the article pointed out that the Pope had made an observation that St. Thomas first evangelised countries like Syria and Persia and then travelled to western India from where Christianity spread to southern India. Pope Benedict feels the area St. Thomas evangelised was what he called ‘western India’ corresponding roughly to today’s Pakistan, says the article.
This remark has angered Kerala Christians from different parishes who claim that there is enough evidences and logical proof to turn down the Pope’s observation.
Sunny Pariyaram, former president of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and currently director of Social Service Branch (YMCA), said St. Thomas had first visited the Niranam Church in Kerala. “The claims made by the pope are baseless. The entire world knows that St. Thomas, during his evangelical tour, first landed in Kerala and later converted some of the families there into Christianity. There have been many historical films and books that have been made by scholars on this subject. One should not get carried away by someone talking in the air.
Scientifically too, it has been proved that the saint came to Kerala. According to history, there has been an inflow of foreigners in India even before Christ as they came for trade of spices like cardamom, pepper and cashew which were cheaply available in the country. So these traders used the sea route and reached Kerala. That’s how even St. Thomas landed in that state,” said Pariyaram.
Interestingly, Joseph Powathil, convenor of the Inter-church Council for Education, said that the reports were twisted and the Pope was referring to Kerala Christians as those who took their faith from St Thomas. “By reporting what the Pope has not said will only help in creating misunderstanding,” said Powathil.
However, Joseph George, vice-president of the Kerala Christian Council (KCC) in Mumbai, said that the Pope must have made statements with some historical backing. “Personally speaking, I haven’t gone to the depth of this issue. If a high-profiled person like the Pope makes statements like this, then it will be with some historical backing to it. There might be some records pertaining to which the Pope must have made this statement,” George said.
Meanwhile, the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Christians which claims to have the throne of St. Thomas, was also furious with the Pope’s remarks. “I read a couple of reports about the Pope’s remarks and I really do not understand on what background he has made such statements. The saint has established around seven churches in Kerala himself. In, fact, ancestral family members of people whom the saint converted into Christianity are still living in Kerala. But we do condemn the Pope’s statements,” said Fr. Scaria Varghese, secretary of the Christian Priests’ Association.