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An inside view of the church of St Saviour Jerusalem wikimedia

In Israel, Indian Catholics get rare chance to celebrate with leaders

By 
  • March 1, 2012

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- At the entrance to St. Saviour Church, Aloysious Leone and women in traditional Indian dress gathered around Trivandrum Archbishop Mari Soosa Pakiam to ask his blessing and kiss his ring.

Leone, 36, a Catholic from southern India, was among about 150 Indian Catholics who braved rain and freezing temperatures to attend a Mass of thanksgiving with church leaders from their country at Jerusalem's St. Saviour Church.

"It is very special to have our cardinals and priests here and be able to attend a Mass with them," he said.

Trivandrum's Latin-rite archbishop was part of an ecumenical delegation of church leaders that visited Israel at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism.

The delegation was led by Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India; Cardinal George Alencherry of Ernakulam-Angamaly, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, joined the delegation on his way back to India from Rome, where he was just elevated to cardinal.

About 4,000 Indian Christians work in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories; many of them are caretakers for the elderly or physically disabled. The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land has an Indian priest who tends to the pastoral needs of the community in Jerusalem.

"We thank God for the opportunity for this trip," Cardinal Gracias said as he blessed those gathered during the Mass. "The Biblical Scriptures and the life and passion of our Lord have deepened for us as we have seen, touched and walked these places. His passion, death and resurrection take on a deeper significance now that we know not only the history but also the geography. The greatest gift you and I know is faith in Jesus. Thank God for this vibrant community. God bless you in his love and in his joy and in his peace."

Despite attempts by Franciscan friars to keep order, the congregation thronged to the front of the church at the end of the Mass, some carrying babies and young children in their arms, eager to receive a blessing from their church leaders.

Speaking to Catholic News Service, Cardinal Alencherry recalled Pope Benedict XVI's message as he elevated 22 new cardinals Feb. 18: The leaders are not only servants in service of the church but also in service of all humanity.

"Here we find the Jewish reality, the Muslim reality and the reality of Christians of different traditions," the cardinal told CNS. "So what we are to do is to give the message and witness of our love of our Lord Jesus Christ in this situation, which is very varied and complex. To some extent it is up to us to keep the peace and harmony in the divergent forces that are working on them and which can develop into conflicts and even battles.

The cardinal said visiting the Holy Land as part of an ecumenical delegation had been enriching.

"This has been for me a new spiritual experience in the life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and the places related to our Blessed Mother," he said.

India has 17 million Catholics, about 2 percent of the country's population. Most belong to either the Latin rite or the Eastern Syro-Malankara or Syro-Malabar Catholic churches.

Goa Archbishop Felipe do Rosario Ferrao spoke of the need for Indian Christians "to respect the sensitivity of the majority community," and his secretary, Father Joaquim Loyola Pereira, told CNS the visit had been an opportunity to see Israel in a new light.

"We Christians have a certain prism in which we see Israel; now that we have been here to see the reality and be in conversation with people we see new alternatives, a new prism of appreciation of the reality of Jewish Israel," he said.

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