Protesters burn a letter from Archbishop Vasil', SJ, in front of St. Mary's Cathedral in Ernakulam. Photo: The Pillar

Almost Half a Million Catholics of India Are Putting Themselves in Imminent Schism for

After Bishop Cyril Vasil’s ultimatum, in only six of the 325 parishes of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly was the Holy Mass celebrated in the unified Rite, approved by the Vatican

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Elizabeth Owens

(ZENIT News / Kachi, 22.08.2023).- Sunday, August 20 was the deadline set by the Pontifical Delegate sent by Pope Francis to India to “fix” the situation created in the largest Catholic diocese of the Syro-Malabar Rite, following the adoption two years ago  of a liturgical reform not shared by all. After the ultimatum of Bishop Cyril Vasil, the Pope’s personal envoy to remedy the situation in India, only six of the 325 parishes of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly celebrated Holy Mass with the unified Rite approved by the Vatican. 


Days ago, the Pontifical Delegate indicated that, if by Sunday, August 20, the Mass was not celebrated according to the unified Rite, the priests would incur in canonical offenses. The local clergy, supported by the laity, kept to its position. In fact, in at least a couple of the six churches that complied with the Pontifical Delegate’s ultimatum, the Catholics left the Mass as soon as they realized that the priests were celebrating it according to the unified rite. 


At least a hundred faithful camped very early in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the Archdiocese’s primate church, so as not to allow anyone to celebrate Mass there. “The Mass can’t be celebrated in the midst of so much tension,” said Father Antony Puthavelil, the Basilica’s Rector. 


For its part, both the Website of the Syro-Malabar Church as well as that of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly made publications pointing out that the only Rite permitted was the unified. 


This conflict, which has already lasted two years, has witnessed the resignation of Archbishop Antony Kariyil, who resigned for being unable to implement the unified Rite. Pope Francis then appointed Monsignor Andrews Thazhath to succeed him in the leadership of the Archdiocese. It was this Monsignor who requested the help of the Holy See, as he also was unable to implement the new Rite. Finally, the Holy Father sent Monsignor Cyril Vasil, who was targeted with eggs and other retorts. 

Monsignor Vasil , a Jesuit, was also answered by the Jesuits of India. The former President of the Jesuit Conference of South Asia said to the local media on Saturday, August 19, that it seemed he “converted the Eucharist into a weapon with his last warning about the Syro-Malabar liturgy, under the guise of obedience.” And he invited his Jesuit brother to commit himself with the local Catholics. In statements to “Matters India,” Jesuit priest Stanislaus Alla, Professor of Moral Theology at the Vidyajyoti Faculty of Theology of Delhi, pointed out that Bishop Vasil’s actions “reveal  explicitly that the use of ‘authority’ in the Church has become central.” And he added: “I hoped that Archbishop Vasil would come to listen, with reverence and respect, to the different constituents, to make a report truly founded on the spirit of synodality, and to present it to the Holy Father. I almost don’t see any of them carried out.” 


The Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly being the most numerous of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church — with half a million faithful –, is also the one that has put itself in risk of imminent schism.

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