Samuel Rayan, renowned Asian theologian, dies

By Jose Kavi

New Delhi, Jan. 2, 2019: Jesuit Father Samuel Rayan, a renowned proponent of liberation theology, died on January 2. He was 98.

The death occurred at 12:30 pm at Nirmala Hospital, Kozhikode, Kerala, where he was undergoing treatment for old age ailments for the past one year.

The funeral is scheduled at 10:30 am on January 4, at Christ Hall, Kozhikode, Father George Mutholil, Kerala Jesuit provincial, told Matters India.

The provincial, who was a student of Father Rayan, hailed his guru as an internationally known theologian and a radical thinker who contributed considerably to promote Indian Christian theology.

“He tried to give theology a human and earthly face by bringing to it his intellectual acumen and his inborn poetic mode of thinking and expression,” Father Mutholil explained.

One of the pioneers to theologize from a third world perspective, Father Rayan’s heart “vibrated with the poor.” He promoted contextualized thinking inviting people to participate in building up God’s kingdom.”

Father Mutholil described Father Rayan as “a multi-faceted personality” and an outstanding theologian who made a significant contribution to Indian Christian theology.

“For some he was a kind, cheerful and charming person. For others he was a great lover of people. Some regarded him as a creative thinker and versatile writer. Others saw him as an artist who paints with words,” the provincial added.

Father Rayan was born on July 23, 1920, at Kumbalam in the Kollam district of Kerala as the fourth among two girls and six boys of Cruz Rayan and his wife Agnes.

After his secondary eucation in St Aloysius High School, Kallada, he joined the Jesuit novitiate in Christ Hall, Kozhikode in 1939. His two year novitiate was under the guidance of Jesuit Father Aldo Maria Patroni, who later became the bishop of Calicut diocese.

He went to Sacred Heart College, Shembaganur, Tamil Nadu, in 1943 for his philosophical studies. He returned to Kerala and taught at Leo XIIIth School, Alleppey for a few years, while completing BA in Malayalam literature.

In 1952, he went to De Nobili College, Pune, for his theological studies and was ordained a priest on March 24, 1955, by Bishop Andrew D’ Souza at Pune. He went to Rome for doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in 1960. His final profession on August 15, 1958, was received by Father Jean-Baptiste Janssens, the then general of the Jesuits.

His first assignment was to Esobhavan (Jesus home) at Ernakulam. Soon after, he was appointed Kerala chaplain of Catholic Students’ Union, later renamed All India Catholic University Federation.

He continued in that work nearly 12 years until he was assigned to teach theology in Vidyajyoti College, Delhi, in 1972. He served as its principal from 1972 to 1976. After more than three decades of teaching in Delhi, Father Rayan returned to Kerala in 2010.

He continued his reading and writing staying at Sameeksha, the Jesuit Spirituality Centre on the banks of river Periyar. His weakening health required him to come to Christ Hall, Kozhikode, in 2018 for treatment and rest.

He served as member of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, member of the Advisory Committee of the Liturgical Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, member of Sub-Commission on Intellectual Formation of the CBCI, and member of the Xavier Board of Higher Education in India.

He was visiting professor at Papal Athaneum, Pune, and many other theological institutes. His theological contributions include two books and innumerable articles mostly in English and Malayalam. Father Kurien Kunnumpuram, Father Rayan’s longtime companion and admirer, collected his articles in English and edited them thematically and publish them in six volumes. Father Kunnumpuram died on October 23, in Kozhikode.

His writings were the subject of a doctorate thesis submitted to the Theology Faculty at Louvain, Belgium, and published as Christian Faith: A Liberation Praxis, Theology of Samuel Rayan, by Nicholas Tharsiuse in 2015.

He mastered Sanskrit and was well read in Indian religions and philosophy.

Being a radical humanist, Father Rayan was convinced that the human person in community is the object of God’s special love. He spoke for the care of the earth, concern for life and commitment to people. His theologizing is deeply rooted in his life, his land and his commitment to Jesus.

According to Father Rayan, theology is a reminder of the great demands of the Kingdom. For him the central mission of the Christian faith is its insertion into the concrete and daily life of the people, especially of the most marginalized and oppressed members of the social body.

“Rice is for sharing, bread must be broken and given. Every bowl, every belly shall have its fill, to leave a single bowl unfilled is to rob history of its meaning; to grab many a bowl for myself is to empty history of God,” he used to say.

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6 thoughts on “Samuel Rayan, renowned Asian theologian, dies

  1. Fr.Samuel Rayan a noble priest. Have experienced his option for the poor during the fish workers fight for their rights. He has encouraged me to be courageous in my convictions as religious. Gratefully remember his diligent and time taking help given to me to prepare a paper to present for Mission Austria. May God reward this wonderful humane priest who gave his life for others.

  2. I had the privilege of being his student at Vidyajyothi from 1980 to 1983. It is indeed a great loss for the Catholic Church. The bitter truth is that a radical and dynamic person like Samuel Rayan is very rarely appreciated by the Church officials. He was indeed a true follower of Jesus. Today there is an urgent need for the FOLLOWERS and not the WORSHIPERS of Jesus of Nazareth.

  3. Liberation Theology should not be restricted to intellectual debate. We want to see it on the ground with social justice and a preferential option for the poor, beginning with our own institutions. Charity begins at home.

  4. Am indebted to many Jesuits but never met him. May he enjoy a well deserved reward. Tributes mention him as gentle and humble, marks of a truly spiritual person. Much like Fr Josef Brunette who died at 101.

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