Ahmedabad gets a new bishop, and a new hope

In the presence of a large gathering of more than 4000 people and bishops from different parts of India, the bishop-elect was led to the specially decorated altar for a solemn Holy Mass in the accompaniment of colorfully attired dancing kids and melodious music.

Ahmedabad gets a new bishop, and a new hope

By Joe Palathunkal
Archbishop Thomas Macwan of Gandhinagar ordained Msgr. Athanasius Rethna Swamy as the new bishop of Ahmedabad at the Immaculate Conception Church grounds on 14th April 2018.

In the presence of a large gathering of more than 4000 people and bishops from different parts of India, the bishop-elect was led to the specially decorated altar for a solemn Holy Mass in the accompaniment of colorfully attired dancing kids and melodious music.

At 3 PM the procession of nearly 300 priests and bishops moved towards the altar as choir sang a beautiful entrance hymn in Gujarati. Among the concelebrants Msgr. Javier Fernandez, representative of Vatican’s Ambassador (Nuncio) to India was a prominent presence.

As the bishops and Msgr. Rethna Swamy ascended the altar, the liturgical ceremony of the ordination began. The Gospel reading from Mathew 16 highlighted the apostolic origin and continuity of a Catholic bishop.

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Matt. 16: 18. These words of Jesus to Peter, the first Pope, were the focal point in the whole ceremony. It tells very clearly that the Catholic church was established according to the words of Jesus and therefore it is the true church, biblically.

After the readings and the customary homily Msgr. Javier Fernandez read out the appointment letter from Pope Francis in Latin and the Jesuit Provincial of Gujarat Fr. Francis Parmar read out the English and Gujarati translations. The letter emphasized that the new bishop must be compassionate to the poor and the marginalized as our Lord Jesus Christ was.

This is in fact is the favourite line of Msgr. Rethna Swamy who said a couple of days ago that our priests need to lead a simple life and our houses and institutions must be for the poor. This attitude of the new bishop gives a new hope to the diocese where the disadvantaged and the marginalized abound. Besides, a warning to priests that they should not indulge in luxury forgetting the poor.

When Archbishop Thomas Macwan laid his hands on a kneeling Rethna Swamy in the company of other bishops, Athanasius Rethna Swamy Swamiadian became the bishop and received the fullness of his priesthood.

Conferring of liturgical insignia followed which included a red skull-cap, a mitre and a ceremonial staff which the ordaining prelate gave to the new bishop and a huge round of applause reverberated across the sprawling Saint Mary’s school campus where the ceremony was organized. Now he would be the head of the Diocese of Ahmedabad which comprises a large geographical area covering a population of nearly 10 million.

When the whole 3-hour long liturgical ceremony was over the felicitation ceremony followed and people began to speak about the qualities of the new bishop and Bishop Felix Machado of Vasai said something that describes and defines Rethna Swamy: “He is pavitr and saada” (He is holy and simple).

Concurs Fr. Arokia Selvam, a close associate of Bishop Rethna Swamy: “I can describe him in three words- spiritual, simple, humble.” And those three words speak volumes about the new Bishop of Ahmedabad. And he added: “He is a man of principles, doesn’t compromise with values, and is very compassionate to the poor and needy.”

Who else can fit in the historic city of Ahmedabad where the personification of simplicity Mahatma Gandhi started the freedom movement from the simple Sabarmati Ashram on a simple charkha!

Born on 10th February 1961 at Parampukkarai in the Diocese of Kottar, Tamil Nadu, Rethna Swamy’s ardent desire to become a missionary like Saint Francis Xavier, led him to the Xavier Mission Home, Nagercoil and his excellent academic performance greatly helped him to complete the long academic training of the priesthood successfully.

But his desire to be a missionary working in the far-flung rural areas never materialized and he was always in administrative positions either as principal of a school or rector of seminary. After his Licentiate in clinical psychology from the famed Pontifical Gregorian University of Rome, he became a fulltime counsellor and guide and also a professor in Vidya Deep Seminary, Sevasi, Gujarat.

When the whole ceremony of ordination was over, one could see his family members who came all the way from Prambukkarai embracing him with hearts swelling with pride and joy and the man from far away Tamil Nadu accepted all the love with a simple smile as the Bishop of Ahmedabad.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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