Amputee cancer survivor ordained priest, thanks Saint Alphonsa
By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: A new Catholic priest in Kerala, southern India, thanks Saint Alphonsa for helping him reach the altar after surviving two bouts of cancer that cost him a leg and a lung.
Auxiliary Bishop Jacob Muriken of Palai ordained Deacon James Thekkumcherikunnel as a priest on December 26. Hundreds of people witnessed the ordination in the Twelve Apostles’ Church, Chemmalamattam, the 27-year-old priest’s home parish in Palai diocese.
“The story of this new priest could revive priestly vocations and trigger discussions on the need for relying on God’s providence,” Fr Jaison Alex Kunnel, the new priest’s senior confrere, told Matters India on December 28.
Both the priests belong to the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, a religious order of men under the Syro-Malabar Church.
Father Thekkumcherikunnel is the youngest of three children of Joy and Jessyamma. He has a brother and a sister.
Father Kunnel recalled that he was the secretary of their provincial when Thekkumcherikunnel was diagnosed with cancer a few months before his first profession in 2009. Doctors had to amputate his left leg under the knee forcing him to walk with artificial limbs.
Father Kunnel, who now lives in Germany, says his young confrere’s story is akin to Jesus, who prayed to God to save him from suffering but wanted to fulfill God’s will.
Thekkumcherikunnel’s ordeal continued. During a regular check-up after 18 months, he was diagnosed of a second instance of cancer – this time on the left lung, which the doctors removed in 2011.
Months after the second surgery and subsequent treatments including chemotherapy, Thekkumcherikunnel returned to the seminary to complete the bachelors in philosophy. He then began his theology studies at Sanatana (eternal) Theological Institute in Kerala.
Father Kunnel says the new priest’s story “will surely challenge” people to deepen their convictions about life, suffering, divine providence and relevance of a committed life in the modern world.
“In these most afflicted times of life he never gave up. He rarely showed signs of discomfort or discouragement. More strikingly, he never gave up the hope of being becoming a priest, and continued his philosophy studies at Jeevalaya Institute of Philosophy Bengaluru.”
Father Kunnel recalls accompanying the ailing seminarian to the tomb of Saint Alphonsa, Asia’s first woman saint, in Bharananganam near Palai. The new priest, whose house is only a few kilometers from Bharananganam, is “a great devotee of St. Alphonsa,” and carries her relics always with him.
“His confidence in the intercession of St. Alphonsa grew stronger with his own illness,” explained Father Kunnel who added that he had seen his young confrere shedding tears only once after his illness. “That was at the tomb of St Alphonsa.”
Father Kunnel asserts that the new priest’s life will become a source of inspiration for many young men. The senior priest regrets that many young men now ignore their vocation because of the “cynical noises in the modern culture” against those who have decided to serve others as priests.
Thekkumcherikunnel “is a man of prayer who always showed unconditional surrender to the will of God,” he added.