Friday, 28 December 2012

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: A Faithful Defender of the Church




Kuriakose Elias Chavara considered the Church as his own mother. He was aware of the fact that being truthful and faithful to the Church was essential for salvation. Union with Pope and obedience and acceptance of the authorities appointed by the Pope are important in this regard. The Kerala Church was going through a challenging phase during that time. The ripples of  Koonan Cross oath  in the middle of seventeenth century which had divided the Church into Pazhayakuttukar (old party) Puthenkuttukar (new party) could be felt with great intensity during the time of Chavara. Kuriakose Elias Chavara defended the Church with valour as a faithful soldier of the Church.

The Roccos Affair
The people of Kerala were dejected of being under the foreign rule and there was a strong demand for a Bishop of their own rite. Bishop Roccos arrived in Kerala on May 9, 1861.  Even though he arrived unlawfully, the real fact was hidden from people.  He received a grand reception by Syrian Churches. Very soon majority of the Churches in Kerala stood behind Bishop Roccos. This unlawful Bishop and his companions caused a Schism like situation  in the Kerala Church. It is known as ‘Roccos Schism’ in the history and Kuriakose Elias Chavara had qualified it as ‘religious rebellion’ (vedakalapam).

Roccos and his companions travelled far and wide in Kerala with the support of Antony Thondanat and others and enjoyed the support of majority of the Churches. To be specific 86 churches fully supported Roccos and in 36 churches there were both groups. It was a natural response of the people who were reeling under the yoke of unmindful latinization by the missionaries and the Bishops and the requests for a native bishop fell in deaf ears.

The situation was alarming. Inorder to counter Roccos, on June 8, 1861, the Authorities of Verapoly officially appointed Fr.Kuriakose as the Vicar General of Verapoly of all the Syrian Catholics of Kerala. Kuriakose Elias was a champion of faith who even renounced an offer to be made bishop by the Roccos group. On hearing about this offer, he said, “My desire is not to be made a bishop, but to save my soul.” Fr. Chavara sent a circular to priests and laity asking them to refrain from encouraging the attempts of Roccos. The circular was strongly worded asking the faithful even ‘to be prepared to die at their hands in defense of unity of the Church.’

Kuriakose Elias had written to Vatican asking clarification for the legitimacy of Bishop Roccos arrival. The letter from the Pope praised Chavara for his zeal and devotion and expressed great regard for the act of approaching the Holy See in such a critical situation to discern the truth. The letter clearly stated that Roccos came to Kerala without the knowledge of the Pope.

Being aware of the letter from the Pope, Bishop Roccos had made up his mind to return; but his supporters  opposed it especially his followers like Avira Parayi didn't allow him to leave .  On 28 December 1861, Roccos was solemnly excommunicated. With much difficulty, the excommunication order was handed over to Roccos by Fr. Mathai Mariam Kappil, vicar of Koonammavu monastery.  He went around Kerala without showing any sign of repentance. But a second letter from the Patriarch reached Roccos which asked him to return back. He fell ill and was treated in Kochi. Roccos had a change of heart and was expressed in a letter to Vicar Apostolic. Vicar Apostolic entrusted Kuriakose Elias with the responsibility of hearing the confession, withdrawing excommunication on certain conditions and making arrangements for the Roccos travel. Even though the situation was volatile, Kuriakose Elias handled it well and Roccos was sent back to Mosul in a ship from Kochi.

From trying to bring together the separated faction which came to existence post Coonan Cross Oath to dealing with challenges from people like Antony Thondanatt, Antony Kudakkachira, Deneha bar Jona, Kuriakose Elias led from the front and ensured that unity of the Church of Christ in Kerala remained intact.

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