Wednesday, July 05, 2006

INDIA: Feast Of Saint Thomas Observed

Indian Christians Observe Feast Of Saint Thomas

July 4, 2006

NEW DELHI (UCAN) -- Special Masses, prayers and pilgrimages marked the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle in India.

"St. Thomas Christians," who trace their faith to the saint, celebrate the feast on July 3. These Christians belong to the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Catholic rites and various factions of the Orthodox Church, all based in the southern state of Kerala. Tradition says the saint landed on the Kerala coast in 52 A.D and introduced Christianity to India.

The two Oriental Catholic rites and the Latin rite, which European missioners introduced in the 15th century, make up the Indian Catholic Church.

St. Thomas Christians believe the apostle established one small and seven big churches in Kerala before going to the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu and being martyred in the year 72 at Chinnamalai (little mount). That site is near Chennai, the Tamil Nadu capital, 2,095 kilometers south of New Delhi.

According to Father Joseph Muttumana, a Syro-Malabar priest, devotion to Saint Thomas has been growing. Speaking with UCA News July 4, the priest said more people now attend church and undertake pilgrimages on the feast day.

Varkey Thomas, a Syro-Malabar layman, says the feast "is very important for Christians in Kerala as it reminds us about our rich tradition and faith." Thomas attended the morning Mass in the Kerala capital of Thiruvananthapuram, 710 kilometers southwest of Chennai.

The feast is a day of obligation for the Oriental Catholics, and their churches in Kerala conducted special programs.

Special Masses and other prayers also were conducted in cities outside Kerala where St. Thomas Christians live in large numbers.

Delhi archdiocese has personal parishes for Oriental Catholics. Some of these offered morning and evening Masses to accommodate office workers who wanted to join the prayers. Besides Mass, the personal parishes held Benediction with the Blessed Sacrament accompanied by recitation of the litany of Saint Thomas. Some of the parishes organized special dinners, or agape, after the evening prayers, which lasted nearly two hours.

Christians also observed the feast by undertaking pilgrimages to places associated with the saint. Hundreds of people attended Masses at San Thome Cathedral in Chennai, which holds the saint's tomb.

In Kerala 6,000 people attended Mass at St. Thomas Church in Malayattoor, the only shrine in India given international status by the Vatican.

The parish priest there, Father Varghese Njaliath, told UCA News 3,000 people trekked to St. Thomas Mount, a hill near the shrine. Tradition says the saint prayed there before going to Chennai.

Hundreds of Catholics joined a pilgrimage Changanacherry archdiocese organized to Niranam, where the saint established a church. Addressing the people, Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry urged Christians to absorb the saint's courage to face threats against their faith.

In Thiruvananthapuram the ecumenical United Christian Movement (UCM) organized a seminar on "modern challenges of Christians today" for the feast day. According to UCM spiritual director Father Joseph Samuel, an Orthodox priest, the ecumenical group has celebrated the feast with various programs for the past 18 years. The movement began in 1953.

Father Samuel said they chose this year's theme to inspire all Christians to meet the challenges now facing Christ's mission in India.

Jiji Thomson, a civil servant and a member of the Orthodox Church who addressed the seminar, urged Christians to forget their differences and work for Church unity.
Reproduced by Konkani Catholics with permission from UCAN(

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