PASTORAL LETTER ISSUED ON THE OCCASION OF
THE BI-CENTENARY CELEBRATION OF
THE BIRTH OF BLESSED KURIAKOSE ELIAS CHAVARA
VARKEY CARDINAL VITHAYATHIL, by the Grace of God, the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam- Angamaly, to the Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Men and Women Religious and Lay Faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church, blessings and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Venerable Brothers and Beloved Children,
The 200th Janma Jayanthi of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, who made unique contributions to the spiritual and social life of the Church in Kerala, is being concluded on 10th February 2005. By raising Father Chavara, Sister Alphonsa and Sister Mariam Thresia to the rank of the Blessed, the Holy Father has filled the lacuna in the Syro-Malabar Church of not having any person raised to such heights of sanctity proposed officially for public veneration, even after twenty centuries of Christian living.
May I use this occasion to make a special appeal to our venerable bishops, reverend priests, consecrated persons and the entire people of God, to make a study of the relevance of Blessed Chavara in our ecclesial life and to assimilate his life model in our personal life and in the life of our community and the society at large. We can be very happy that the Holy Father has declared this year as the Year of the Eucharist when we celebrate the Bi-centenary of the birth of Blessed Chavara, a great devotee and apostle of the Eucharist.
Our loving God the Father often sends apt persons in crisis situations to solve them. In the 19th century it was Blessed Chavara whom God sent to propose solutions to the religious, social and cultural problems that affected the Church and the society of that time and to give a new vitality to the people by opening up new avenues of growth.
Blessed Chavara’s first priority was to equip the priests and religious to give leadership to the people of God. He supervised the training of priests as malpan (master) and examiner of 35 years from 1829 to 1864. It was mainly the priests trained by him that stood by him and promoted unity in the Church by wiping out the Roccos schism. For remedying the lack of institutes of consecrated life in the Syro-Malabar Church Blessed Chavara and his companions started two indigenous religious Congregations, CMI and CMC. As a part of his educational, social and cultural reforms, Blessed Chavara promoted the starting of schools attached to Churches, and provided the depressed and backward sections of the society with the opportunity of studying together with the upper class children, by giving them economic aid such as clothes, books, noon meals, etc. With this same zeal and vision, Blessed Chavara started the publication of prayer books and Christian literature with the help of a wooden printing press, designed in -plantain marrow.
Blessed. Chavara took the initiative to lead women, confined mostly to the kitchen, through education to work-oriented activities. The lay confraternity called ‘St. Joseph’s Society for good Health’ and the ‘House of the Destitute’ for the poor and sick’ were inspired by his motto - ‘service through people’s participation’. Blessed Chavara was responding to the great demands of the 19th century Church and society also as the Vicar General, with authority over the Syro-Malabar Church. The various methods and projects Blessed Chavara initiated for the financial self-sufficiency of the Church through lay participation such as Pidiyari, noottikanju, kettuthengu, are methods still relevant today.
It was for the renewal of the family, which is the basic unit of the Church that Blessed Chavara gave the greatest emphasis. He tried to renew families through regular Sunday sermons and parish retreats. ‘The Testament of a Loving Father” (Chavarul) of Blessed Chavara is a guiding light for the families even today. Blessed Chavara’s definition of the family has five factors: A good Christian family is similar to heaven. It is a community of people joined together by a bond of blood and love, where the members manifest respect and obedience to elders and walk in peace with the Lord and the people, and seek to attain eternal salvation, living peacefully according to his proper state of life. The children are treasures entrusted to the families by God to sanctify their souls with his precious blood, and make them His ministers in this world, and to return them to Him on the day of final Judgment.
These were a few works that Blessed Chavara did for the Church and Society. But what made him great was, above all, his holy life. A great devotee of the Holy Eucharist, of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, Blessed Chavara was a man of God and attained lofty heights of mystical prayer. Before he died he could say that he had not lost the grace received at baptism. His ‘Compunction of a soul’ (Athmanuthapam) ‘Spiritual Colloquies’ (Dhyana Sallapangal) and letters are imbued with his deep God experience.
Blessed Chavara who made such great contribution to our Church and society should always remain a model and inspiration for our life. To realize this objective, it would be very helpful to celebrate the bi-centenary of the birth of Blessed Chavara with appropriate programmes in all our Archdioceses, dioceses, parishes and institutions and to conduct pilgrimages to the holy places associated with Blessed Chavara, such as Kainakari, Mannanam, and Koonammavu. Let Blessed Chavara intercede for us.
Wishing you the joy and peace of the birth of Jesus and the New Year, I bless you in the name of the Father + and the Son + and the Holy Spirit +.
Given from the Major Archiepiscopal Curia of the Syro-Malabar Church at Mount St. Thomas on 1st January 2005
+Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil
Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church