Bishop blasts reconversion drive

Palayur is one of the oldest Christian centers in India. It can claim to have had a continuous Christian presence for 2,000 years

Will resist reconversion drive: Catholic bishop

Thrissur: A Catholic bishop in Kerala has blasted the reconversion drive by some rightwing Hindu groups in India.

Attacking churches and chapels would not destroy Christian faith, asserted Auxiliary Bishop Raphael Thattil Trichur on Sunday, addressing thousands of people who had come for an annual Lenten pilgrimage on March 22.

They walked from Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral in Trichur to St Thomas Church Palayur, 28 km northwest, a place associated with the first Christian conversions in India.

The prelate, a renowned retreat preacher, said Christians would strongly resist the soc-called “ghar vapsi,” attempts by Hindu radicals to convert Christians and Muslims into their fold.

Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus is believed to have baptized a group of Brahmins in Palayur in 52 AD.

Archbishop Andrews Thazhathu of Trichur flagged off the pilgrimage at 4 am on Sunday. He handed over the papal flag to Lourdes Metropolitan Cathedral Vicar Father Varghese Kuthur. Hundreds of women and children and others then walked to the Palayur church by carrying wooden crosses and rosaries, reported The Indian Express.

Several others joined the pilgrimage at different locations. Vicars from various parishes also joined the walk that finally converged at the Palayur church, 12 hours later.

The pilgrimage is held on the Sunday before Palm Sunday.

Jose Chittilappilly, a Church historian, says thousands of children, women, young and old men walking in blazing sun has become the biggest proclamation of faith in the Archeparchy of Trichur.

Parishes also conduct similar pilgrimages on Fridays during Lent, leaving an archieparchial basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows around 9 p.m. and arriving in the early morning. They return home after the morning liturgy. Palayur Catholics support this march by holding vigil in their church.

According to tradition, St. Thomas noticed some men standing inside a pond who after taking water in their cupped hands tossed it into the air, symbolically offering it to Surya, the god of the sun.

The apostle then asked them to make the water stay in the air as a sign Surya had accepted the offering. The Brahmins derided this as impossible. St. Thomas then scooped up water from the pond and threw it upward. Water drops remained suspended in the air until they disappeared. Those who witnessed the event were stunned, and many requested baptism. St. Thomas later baptized them in the same pond.

The Christians of Palayur should be proud of their legacy, says George Menachery, an Indologist who edits the St. Thomas Christian Encyclopedia of India and the Indian Church History Classics.

“Palayur is one of the oldest Christian centers in India. It can claim to have had a continuous Christian presence for 2,000 years,” says the 76-year-old professor emeritus.

The Palayur church began to regain its splendor after the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Trichur declared it a regional shrine in the year 2000. Despite its modest flock of some 515 families, it is now recognized as a major parish.

These days, the Palayur church could well be thought of as Kerala’s Jerusalem, drawing a steady flow of pilgrims and tourists throughout the year.

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