Syro-Malankara Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum, India, 53, is among six new cardinals named by Pope Benedict XVI. CNS photo/Anto Akkara

Local Indians thrilled new cardinal one of their own

  • November 23, 2012

TORONTO - Canada’s Syro-Malankara Catholic community may be modest in size but its members are reacting with immense pride to the elevation of its first cardinal.

Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, was to be among eight prelates elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict on Nov. 24. He is the first cardinal ever selected from the India-based Syro-Malankara Church.

For the 250-member Syro- Malankara congregation of Toronto, the unexpected honour is cause for celebration.

“I’m really, really thrilled for this recognition because the universal Church is recognizing our Church as a deeper part of communion,” said Sebin Alexander, 24, a parishioner at St. Mary’s Malankara Catholic Mission in Toronto.

The elevation of the head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church puts the entire world congregation of approximately 500,000 members into the limelight, said Fr. John Kuriakose, pastor at St. Mary’s.

“Hopefully, since he received this elevation, it will put (the new cardinal) in a better position to work towards the unification of the Church,” Kuriakose said.

A handful of parishioners from St. Mary’s went to Rome for the elevation ceremony, where they expected to meet up with about 80 members of the faith from across North America. There is a second Canadian mission in Edmonton and approximately 10 congregations scattered across the United States, Kuriakose said.

The Syro-Malankara Church was founded in India by St. Thomas the Apostle in AD 52. In its long history it has experienced schisms and a break with Rome. Full communion for the Syro- Malankara Church with Rome was re-established in 1930.

Church members are hopeful that Thottunkal’s elevation to cardinal will help bring unification to the many branches of India’s Christian churches.

“Since this happened, it is with great hope we can extend our hands to our brothers in the Orthodox community, in the Jacobite community,” Alexander said, referring to the many splits in the Indian Church. “We can have more of an ecumenical movement to bring them back to the Church.

“It’s also a reminder of my responsibility as a youth to really understand the call of the evangelization in this culture and to have a greater dedication to the Church.”

Francis Thazhamon was to join the pilgrims in Rome.

“This is something he (Thottunkal) deserves and the universal Church is moving in the right direction realizing the need of the Church at this time,” said Thazhamon.

Thottunkal, 53, is one of six new cardinals being created by the Pope. They hail from six different countries and, in a rare twist, none are European. They are U.S. Archbishop James M. Harvey, 63, Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch Bechara Rai, 72, Nigerian Archbishop John Olorunfemi Onaiyekan of Abuja, 68, Colombian

Archbishop Ruben Salazar Gomez of Bogota, 70, and Philippine Archbishop Luis Tagle of Manila, 55.

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