In the Footsteps of St. Thomas: India’s Future Priests

Day 6, 4 March 2012

Our schedule for today featured just one pastoral visit, but it was one filled with great content and meaning.

We arrived a little after 6 a.m. at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Apostolic Seminary in Kottayam. Waiting in front of the seminary was the rector, Father Alex Taramangalam. It was still dark and he walked us inside to meet with the priest in charge of liturgy, with some sisters who brought a choir of girls, and with some priests who would concelebrate with me. I had the privilege of celebrating the liturgy in this Syro-Malabar Seminary in the Latin rite, complete with English and Latin sung parts of the Mass.

While we were going over preparations for the Mass, the seminarians were chanting together the morning prayer of the church in their distinct style and their own beautiful local Malayalam language. Father Alex pointed out to me one portion of their morning prayer was for all their benefactors, which includes all our CNEWA family.

My first impression as I processed to the altar was the size of the chapel filled with smiling seminarians, about 300 of them, a mix of those at the philosophy level, theology level and about 35 seeking advanced degrees in Theology and Scripture. What an uplifting feeling to know that God has blessed the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church with so many priestly vocations.

This seminary is one of three Syro-Malabar synodal seminaries, not the oldest (as it is presently celebrating its golden anniversary), but it has the largest student body.

Back to the liturgy … It was very humbling and much appreciated that all the seminarians had copies of all the responses to the newly promulgated Latin rite Mass and were fully in sync with every detail of the liturgy. I think they may have been more comfortable with this rite than so many of our faithful at home still coming to grips with changes put in place since last Advent. And they even sang some responses in Latin.

You might not appreciate what an honor it was for me to celebrate with these seminarians in my own rite. The Syro-Malabar liturgy is filled with so much reverence and inspires me to be a better celebrant in my own liturgical norm. I am grateful to all of them for this.

At the end of Mass, Father Alex gave a glowing introduction of me, especially noting how CNEWA has accompanied the seminarians for many years on the road to priesthood. I cannot remember the exact number, but he mentioned that this seminary has been blessed to have educated and formed about 1,600 priests giving service all over the world. In fact, in my homily I, too, highlighted the wonderful missionary charism of the Syro-Malabar Church. As with St. Thomas the Apostle, Syro-Malabar Catholics always reach out to spread the Good News of Jesus far and wide. I thanked them for continuing to answer the call to priesthood and to be faithful to their Syro-Malabar heritage.

I also shared with them after Mass about the work of CNEWA and how blessed are we to serve the needs of our brothers and sisters in the Eastern churches. I told the seminarians that my role is to educate our Catholics, to animate them and to inspire them too embrace more fully our family in the East. I also assured them we will continue to accompany them as they discern God’s will.

Father Alex and his team of administrators and faculty, under the spiritual leadership of the Syro-Malabar Synod, offer the seminarians a great blend of top-notch academic theology coupled with very healthy doses of formation. The result, as I have evidenced firsthand, is a community of priests firmly rooted in their faith and ministry, and committed to give loving service in Christ’s church. You should be proud of them and take delight as their loving sponsors.

Thomas Varghese mentioned in his remarks to the seminarians how valued is the relationship between the sponsors and their seminarians and told the young men how important it is to write to their CNEWA family sponsors. They promised to remember all of you in their prayers. In fact, they sang a hymn to Our Lady at the end of our sharing in which they commended all of you to her protection.

After Mass we enjoyed a bountiful breakfast with the seminary administration, again the rector being a superlative host. All of the faculty and administration and staff, including the sisters I was fortunate to meet, made us feel most welcomed.

The final facet of our visit was a tour of the vast campus. CNEWA has had a hand in building the new library, which is “state of the art,” with an impressive reference section, a lending section, digital control system and plenty of space and plenty of books for quality research and reference. The grounds are impeccably maintained and the seminarians assist with gardening chores, general maintenance and other household tasks. There is also a very impressive museum and a special treat was to walk up several flights of stairs to a special chapel/prayer and meditation room. This simple room invites seminarians to come for private, quiet prayer at any time of day or night. A spirit of peace permeated this holy space. And how perfect it was to climb to this holy place on the Lenten Sunday when the story of the Transfiguration is read!

After our visit to St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, we packed up our things at the Vincentian Provincial House, offered our thanks to its superior, Father George Arackal, and proceeded to Ernakulam where we would be based until our departure on 9 March.

I end this day with much hope after my energizing visit to the seminary. Whatever God’s plan is for each of them we do not know, but with certainty we can say, the church will be blessed. God bless you and keep you in his love.

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