Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal’s Catholic vision

When I read in Sathyadeepam some of the views of Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal, I thought here is a truly catholic bishop who will truly match an excellent catholic Pope Francis whose papal vision is to embrace the whole humanity, and speaks very often against exclusivist trends.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal’s Catholic vision

By Joe Palathunkal
Some of you may remember the extremely charitable bishop in Norman Mckinnel’s famous play The Bishop’s Candlesticks. Treating a convict in the middle of the night with such gentle and courageous charity could be the other end of a catholic vision that sees every human being with a universal outlook.

When I read in Sathyadeepam some of the views of Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal, I thought here is a truly catholic bishop who will truly match an excellent catholic Pope Francis whose papal vision is to embrace the whole humanity, and speaks very often against exclusivist trends.

In an interview in Sathyadeepam Bishop Chacko spoke of the Syro-Malabar tradition of Kerala as an inward looking one. All our problems begin from here and it was the bane of India for the last five thousand years – remain here itself with xenophobia without looking out, reaching out.

I often wonder about the European explorers like Vespucci, Cabral and Columbus who literally risked their lives and went out to search for the new world. I call them missionaries who paved the way for missionaries even to the Dark Continent and a man like David Livingstone is considered an explorer though he was a missionary in Africa.

Catholic missionaries down the centuries were truly catholic to map the whole world for Jesus and Bishop Chacko has imbibed that spirit in abundance. That is why he could perspicaciously analyze the nature of Syro-Malabar church and say it was not a missionary church. The reason is that it remained like a frog-in-the well wallowing in the glory of the caste ethos.

Even today very often I hear from my fellow Syro-Malabarians this abominable bout: our ancestors were pure Brahmins whom Saint Thomas baptized in AD 52.

What an abomination to the Lord who came to call the Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors and lepers. Bishop Chacko follows that Lord and as a true shepherd he cared for all the sheep including the striped ones, unlike Jacob who divided them between his future son-in-law Laban and himself.

As Bishop of Jhabua in 2002 Chacko Thottumarickal had a large tribal belt for his care and he did not boast about his high caste origin but following the spirit of a true shepherd he cared for them following his catholic vision that all are children of one heavenly Father, the Abba experience of Jesus.

When he moved to Indore in 2008, he implemented the concept school of excellence for the best student from every part of his diocese to train them in English for three months and get them admitted in this school. He envisages future officials from these students who would be in important decision making slots.

What Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal envisages is an outgoing church, a truly catholic and apostolic church that is for all people. That is a missionary church and the very nature of the catholic faith is missionary.

Then the narrow-minded thinking that is prevalent in some Kerala churches will disappear and if the Syro-Malabar church becomes truly missionary, then it will not create fissures outside Kerala by building different churches and extorting money from the Malayalee Catholics who have been living in peace all these years.

Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal might have imbibed this truly catholic spirit from his own Congregation the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) that has given birth to towering missionaries in different parts of the world. Look at the galaxy of anthropologists from this very congregation founded by Saint Arnold Janssen (1837 – 1909) who has said: “May the heart of Jesus live in the hearts of all.”

I am sure this bishop of Indore has definitely imbibed the spirit of these perspicacious words and that is why he could call a spade a spade saying with guts and gumption that Syro-Malabar church is really an inward looking one bereft of any missionary spirit. A church that is not missionary cannot be a Catholic church. I hope all will take this bishop’s catholic vision in a true catholic spirit.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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