In the Footsteps of St. Thomas: CNEWA’s “Spiritual Sons”

Msgr. John Kozar reports on the events of the tenth day of his pastoral visit to India.

Day 10, 8 March 2012

Today represents the last full day of my pastoral visit in southern India.

I began my day by returning to the CNEWA regional office in Cochin for a final visit and photo-op with all the employees there. It was a great joy for me to share with them some of the wonderful stories I’ll be carrying home with me, the fruits of a multitude of pastoral visits with the poor. They were very enthused as I gave them some snippets of my many experiences, especially the many visits with children.

As a way of remembering my time with them and offering them a little memento of my visit, I took photos of each of them with myself. I will personally cherish these as a remembrance of my time with them, as I will also cherish photos with literally everyone and every institution I visited. At this point, with only one visit remaining for tomorrow, I have taken more than 2,300 photos!

Our next visit took us to the St. Joseph Pontifical Seminary of the Syro-Malabar Church. The entry into the very large campus is most impressive. Historically, it is the oldest seminary in India, dating back about 340 years, and was founded by Carmelite Fathers from Spain.

It is a huge seminary, divided into two distinct sub-campuses — one Latin rite and the other one Syro-Malabar. My visit this day was to the Syro-Malabar division. Waiting to greet us at the entrance was Father Antony Narikulam, the rector, and Father Sebastian, the financial officer of the seminary. We had a delightful visit and Father Antony and I resonated immediately, as we both cherish our time spent as parish priests — or as we would say at home, pastors. He brings a depth of experience as parish priest, academic and administrator to his role as rector.

Father Antony led us into a meeting hall, where we were warmly greeted by 300 seminarians. There are actually over 400 studying here, but a little over 100 are extern students and do not live on the seminary campus.

Imagine looking out over the faces of 300 smiling seminarians! It is quite a sight, as most of our seminaries at home have very small enrollments and many have been forced to close. Of special note: the day I visited, these seminarians were involved in final exams, yet they took time from their study schedules to welcome me.

I was invited to address all the seminarians and I encouraged them in their vocations and shared my own joy, happiness and satisfaction in being a parish priest. I invited them especially to always see themselves as missionaries. The Syro-Malabar church distinguishes itself by being dynamically missionary, sharing its blessing of abundant vocations with many parts of the world.

Thomas Varghese told the young men how much their CNEWA sponsors enjoy receiving letters from them, and reminded them of how many of our donors look upon these seminarians as their adopted spiritual sons.

I got a big laugh from the seminarians when I did my impression of someone speaking Malayalam. You cannot believe how difficult the sounds are in this language.

Father Antony and his administration team and faculty were all present and gave a strong witness of how these seminarians are being very well educated academically, and also being well formed in their faith. I complimented them for the strength of the formation and spirituality that offers a great balance for their academic pursuits. I also invited them to consider always that the poor are the best of teachers. That has certainly been my personal experience during this pastoral visit. The poor can make the gospel simple, sincere and profound. God bless them.

As Cardinal George Alencherry had visited me in New York a few months ago (although before he was elevated to the rank of cardinal), I had promised to visit him during my present pastoral visit. And so he kindly invited me to join him for a private meeting and then afforded me the great privilege of dining with his bishops, who were present to honor him as a new cardinal and to spend a day in an “informal synodal setting” with him.

I learned so much about the Syro-Malabar Church from His Eminence and found him so cordial, open and relaxed in our conversation. I was joined at this meeting by two of his curia staff. Their participation was also very enriching for me.

At dinner, the cardinal gave me an opportunity to speak informally to all the bishops in their conference hall. It was a great honor to address them and give them some updates on CNEWA and some reflections on the Syro-Malabar Church, at least from my vantage point and as the new President of CNEWA. They listened intently and then His Eminence invited all of them to ask questions of me, make comments, etc. We had a very lively and engaged conversation. Many of them, especially the cardinal, publicly and privately expressed their appreciation for all the good works of CNEWA. They asked that I convey to all our CNEWA family their gratitude.

The hour was getting late and all the bishops would join their major archbishop in the morning for very important ecclesial matters in their day of meetings, so we said our goodbyes and I was invited to come back soon, with a special request to include some of the mission territories — that is, the much less-populated areas of their ministries — in my next visit. I promised to do my best in broadening the scope of my visits to include some more remote dioceses.

Tomorrow there will be one final visit to a home for physically challenged individuals. From there, Thomas and I will head for the airport and begin what will be a 37-hour-long journey back to New York.

It is now very late and I am ready to retire, but before shutting out the light, I will commend all of you to Almighty God and ask Him to watch over you and to reward you for all your kindnesses to the poor in India.

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