Who is Blessed Chavara and what is his uniqueness?
01. Blessed Chavara is one of the trios who founded the first Indian religious Congregation.
02. He is the visionary, who along with his confreres, initiated a great process for the renewal of the Church, both Syrian and Latin, in Kerala, through systematic faith formation, retreat preaching, Sunday Homilies, and sacramental re-vitalization of the laity, during the 19th century at a decisive era of the Church, thus becoming a great reformer and defender of the Church.
03. He was a young priest of prophetic vision, who took definitive steps to systematize the priestly training. Thus a Seminary was started in Mannanam in 1833 for the whole of Kerala, which continued there till 1894 when it was shifted to Puthenpally and later established in Alwaye in 1932. He visualized a company of clerics filled with ardent love and total commitment to Jesus and to his Gospel Values, deep-rooted in the faith, capable to strengthen the sacramental life of the people, morally upright, intellectually erudite, emotionally mature, and well-trained in communication skills in order to preach the message of Jesus vigorously.
04. He introduced a process of renewal of the life of the clergy through annual retreat and regularization of the Canonical Prayers.
05. He took the initiative to start the first educational institution in the Syro-Malabar Church. That was a Sanskrit school established in Mannanam in 1846 and it was open to all irrespective of caste and creed. It initiated a great social change in the caste-ridden society of Kerala. This innovation was prophetic and the importance given to education became the root cause for an integral development of Kerala.
06. In the same year 1846, he established the first printing press of the Syro-Malabar Church. It was also in Mannanam. Many publications started coming out from that press. His vision was that our people should expand the horizons of their knowledge and establish their faith in deep-rooted convictions.
07. He was also the pioneer in visualizing the possibilities of evangelization in the Syro-Malabar Church. His entry into this field was a natural expression of sharing with others the intense Jesus-experience he had in his meditations. He started Catechumenates attached to all the Monasteries for spreading the Gospel message to all, especially the poor people.
08. Fr. Chavara was the first Indian Catholic who made the Profession of Religious Vows in the Church. It was on 8th December 1855. The religious community started at Mannanam in 1831 became a canonical religious society on that day. Fr. Chavara was also the first Prior General of that Congregation (CMI).
09. After the times of the Archdeacons, and after a gap of 3 centuries, it was Fr. Chavara who was appointed the Head of the Syro-Malabar community for the whole of Kerala in the capacity as its Vicar General. He received that appointment in 1861 from the Bishop of Verapoly, the only diocese in Kerala at that time. Thus, he also became a ‘bridge-builder’ between the Syrian and Latin Churches.
10. Fr. Chavara is considered a great defender of the faith and protector of the Church. In 1861, when the powerful schismatic onslaught of Roccos from Bagdad began shattering the Syro-Malabar Church, it was Blessed Chavara, who with his efficient and charismatic leadership who defeated the schism and protected the Church from a disaster.
11. In 1864, he issued the historic circular on education that every Church should start a school also adjacent to it. This order triggered a great revolution inn the field of education in the history of the Kerala Church, and later for the whole society in Kerala.
12. Blessed Chavara was the pioneer in visualizing the emancipation of women in Kerala. He took the initiative, along with FR. Leopold Beccaro, OCD, to establish a religious Congregation for women. This historic event took place in 1866, and the first CMC Convent was founded in Koonammavu.
13. Blessed Chavara was the initiator of the Eucharistic Devotion in the Syro-Malabar Church. He adopted the ‘40-hour Adoration’ from the global Church and introduced it for the first time in Koonammavu in 1866. Later it was introduced in all the CMI Monasteries. This devotion imparted great spiritual experience to all the clergy and the faithful alike both in the Latin and the Syrian Churches.
14. He was also instrumental in making the rules and regulations for conducting the liturgical services with devotion and decorum. The ‘Regulations’ which he made became the Magna Carta for the whole of Kerala.
15. Blessed Chavara was also the pioneer in visualizing the need of caring for the poor and the aged in the society. The charitable institution established by him at Kainakari in 1869 was the first of its kind in Kerala.
16. By the time he breathed his last in the odour of sanctity, he could see the 7 Monasteries for men and one for women well-established, leading the entire Kerala Church in the right order and to a rapid progress in the path of holiness.
17. Fr. Chavara was the first Indian Catholic to be elevated to the honour of the Altar. Pope John Paul II declared him BLESSED in a solemn ceremony at Kottayam on 8th February 1986, along with Sr. Alphonsa, FCC, another great soul of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Fr. Mathew Kaniamparampil, CMI