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Pope to Syro-Malabar faithful: Unity is a duty

Meeting with the head Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which has been divided for a number of years by a fierce liturgical dispute, Pope Francis emphasises the importance of obedience to ecclesiastical authorities.

By Joseph Tulloch

Pope Francis met on Monday morning with Major Archbishop Raphael Thattil, the head of Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

The Pope’s address to Archbishop Thattil ranged over a number of topics, from the ancient history of the Church in Kerala to the liturgical dispute which has been raging there for a number of years.

An ancient history

Pope Francis began his address by reflecting on the ancient faith of the Syro-Malabar Church.

“The faithful of your beloved Church”, he said, “are known not only in India, but throughout the whole world, for the ‘vigour’ of their faith and piety.”

Referring to the fact that, for many years, Western missionaries attempted to force Kerala’s Christians to conform to European traditions, Pope Francis said that “some members of the faith” committed “unfortunate acts against you”, because of their “insensitivity” to the history of India’s ancient churches.

The Syro-Malabar Church, the Pope added, is particularly important today, in times where it is common to “sever the roots connecting us to the past.”

“The Christian East”, he said, “allows us to draw from ancient and ever new sources of spirituality; these become fresh springs that bring vitality to the Church.”

Pope Francis with bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church

Pope Francis with bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church

Unity and obedience

Referring to the ongoing liturgical controversy, the Pope said that he had “recently sent letters and a video message to the faithful, warning them of the dangerous temptation to focus on one detail.”

This danger, he said, comes from “a self-referentiality, which leads to listening to no other way of thinking but one’s own.”

And it is here, the Pope warned, that “the devil creeps in”, aiming to undermine Jesus’ desire that we, his disciples, “be one” (John 17.2).

“For this reason,” Pope Francis stressed, “guarding unity is not a pious exhortation but a duty.”

And, he added, “showing a grave lack of respect for the Blessed Sacrament …by arguing about the details of how to celebrate the Eucharist, the pinnacle of [Jesus’] presence among us, is incompatible with the Christian faith.”

The path toward unity

“Let us work with determination to protect communion”, Pope Francis urged, and “pray tirelessly” that those who refused to accept the Church’s rulings on the liturgical issues “may realize that they are part of a larger family that loves them and waits for them.”

“Let us meet and discuss without fear,” the Pope said, but “above all, let us pray, so that the light of the Spirit, which reconciles differences and brings tensions back into unity, may resolve disputes.”

“There is one certainty”, the Pope emphasised: “pride, recriminations and envy do not come from the Lord and never lead to concord and peace.”

Conclusion


Pope Francis brought his address to an end with a reflection on the encounter of St Thomas – who had doubted the resurrection –  with the Risen Jesus.

Jesus, the Pope recalled, showed himself to Thomas, and invited him to inspect the wounds he had received while on the cross.

“What amazement must have seized the Apostle Thomas as he contemplated them and saw his doubts and fears vanish before the greatness of God! It is an amazement that generates hope, an amazement that prompted him to go out, to cross new borders and to become your father in faith. Let us cultivate this amazement of faith, which enables us to overcome every obstacle!”

You can read the full text of the Pope’s address here

Pope Francis with Archbishop Thattil, bishops, and members of the Syro-Malabar Church in Rome

Pope Francis with Archbishop Thattil, bishops, and members of the Syro-Malabar Church in Rome

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