Pope Francis said the variety of Catholic Churches and rites in India is a richness for the country that ought to be strengthened, and as a means of doing so, he expanded the reach of one of the country’s indigenous Churches.
The decision moves toward a greater allowance for several bishops from distinct Catholic Churches in India having a presence in the same territory.
“In a world where large numbers of Christians are forced to migrate, overlapping jurisdictions have become customary and are increasingly effective tools for ensuring the pastoral care of the faithful while also ensuring full respect for their ecclesial traditions,” Pope Francis wrote in an Oct. 10 letter addressed to India’s bishops.
He said the diversity of ecclesial life in the country “shines with great splendor throughout lands and nations.”
The various Catholic rites in India, Pope Francis said, constitute a historic Christian presence in India “that is both rich and beautiful, complex and unique.”
“It is essential for the Catholic Church to reveal her face in all its beauty to the world, in the richness of her various traditions,” he said, and noted how the Second Vatican Council sought to “protect and preserve the treasure of the particular traditions of each Church,” an ongoing mission today.
His letter accompanied an announcement on the establishment of two new eparchies-Shamshabad (in Telengana) and Hosur (in Tamil Nadu) for the Syro-Malabar Church.
Pope Francis’ decision to establish new eparchies for the Syro-Malabar Church and widen its jurisdiction to essentially all of India mirrors a similar decision he made in August with the Syro-Malankara Church, when he reinforced their own presence with the establishment of a new eparchy and an apostolic visitor to the Syro-Malankara Church in Europe and Oceania.
The establishment of the eparchies also takes place as the Congregation for the Oriental Churches celebrates its centenary with a variety of activities in Rome, culminating in Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Major Oct. 12.
In his letter, Pope Francis noted that “In India, even after many centuries, Christians are only a small proportion of the population and, consequently, there is a particular need to demonstrate unity and to avoid any semblance of division.”
He stated that when the Syro-Malabar Church expanded with missionary eparchies to parts of northern and central India, “it was generally thought by the Latin Bishops that there should be just one jurisdiction, that is, one bishop in a particular territory. These eparchies, created from Latin dioceses, today have exclusive jurisdiction over those territories, both of the Latin and Syro-Malabar faithful.”
“However, both in the traditional territories of the Eastern Churches, as well as in the vast area of the so-called diaspora (where these faithful have long been established), a fruitful and harmonious cooperation between Catholic bishops of the different sui iuris Churches within the same territory has taken place.”
He voiced hope that his decision to broaden the reach of the Syro-Malabar Church would be “welcomed with a generous and peaceful spirit, although it may be a source of apprehension for some, since many Syro-Malabars, deprived of pastoral care in their own rite, are at present fully involved in the life of the Latin Church
Francis stressed his conviction that “there is no need for concern: the Church’s life should not be disrupted by such a provision.”
“Indeed it must not be negatively interpreted as imposing upon the faithful a requirement to leave the communities which have welcomed them, sometimes for many generations, and to which they have contributed in various ways. It should rather be seen as an invitation as well as an opportunity for growth in faith and communion with their sui iuris Church, in order to preserve the precious heritage of their rite and to pass it on to future generations.”
“The path of the Catholic Church in India cannot be that of isolation and separation, but rather of respect and cooperation,” he said, adding that the presence of several bishops of various rites “will surely offer an eloquent witness to a vibrant and marvelous communion.”
Francis closed his letter urging the Catholic Churches in India “to be generous and courageous as they witness to the Gospel in the spirit of fraternity and mutual love.”
(source: Catholic News Agency)