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Migrant families and parental church: Tensions and solutions

The predominant concern of a migrant Catholic family is to provide economic security for its members and a Catholic education for the children along with their health care. For their spiritual needs, they naturally go to the local church and invariably their sacramental needs are taken care of.

Migrant families and parental church: Tensions and solutions

By Joe Palathunkal
Migration is a reality today in this 21st century and nobody can wish it away. This migration brings with it different tensions and fears which must be addressed discreetly by the social, religious and political leadership. It is in this context the role of the parental church becomes very pertinent in relation to the Catholic migrant families.

Remember, already the migrant families are in tension for the mere fact that they have left their familiar native heath and hearth for an unknown and unfamiliar land and people. This creates anxieties and fears in the new found land for all the migrant families and for Catholic families there are added tensions depending on the placewhere they have migrated.

In such a situation the predominant concern of a migrant Catholic family is to provide economic security for its members and a Catholic education for the children along with their health care. For their spiritual needs, they naturally go to the local church and invariably their sacramental needs are taken care of.

There are three different rites within the Catholic church of India – Latin rite, Syromalabar rite and Syromalankara rite. So far outside Kerala the people belonging to the latter two rites were under the pastoral care of the Latin rite and for almost a century these people were well taken care by the Latin rite hierarchy and nobody had any problem.

But now the clamouring for setting up separate Syromalabar eparchies in these areas have created untold troubles for the migrant families. First of all, they have to support these new eparchies economically which for the migrant families is a painful burden because these families are struggling to pull on with meagre income every day and every moment.

Secondly, cost of land and other materials have skyrocketed making it almost impossible to build a new church or a bishop’s house. Thirdly, Syromalabar eparchies in Latin rite regions have driven wedge between the local Latin Catholics and the Syromalabar Catholics from Kerala and within the Kerala Catholics themselves a clear demarcation has come up between the Syromalabar ones and the Latin ones. It is hostile division all the way.

All in the name of a beautiful letter written by a visionary Pope Francis for the good of the whole Catholic church in India.

In the October 9, 2017 letter Pope Francis particularly emphasized that the Catholic Church in India cannot be “that of isolation and separation, but rather of respect and cooperation,” and that the collaboration between the various Catholic rites in the territories “will surely offer an eloquent witness to a vibrant and marvellous communion.”

On this first anniversary of the papal letter I would suggest a few practical solutions based on the history of the migrant Syromalabar families living in different parts of the world.

Let the old practice continue – the Syromalabar or Malankara migrant families will be taken care by the Latin dioceses of the places where they are settled. This was going on for decades without any problem and it must continue now also.

A letter from the Latin parish priest must be the sufficient ground for a Syromalabar or Malankara Catholic to fulfil his or her sacramental needs in their parental rite back in Kerala.

Every Catholic priest irrespective of their rite of birth need to have the right to celebrate Mass or administer sacrament in any rite of the universal Church anywhere with a simple permission from the local parish priest. This is essential for upholding the catholicity of the Catholic Church.

Avoid setting up eparchies of the parental churches outside Kerala if it is against the wish of the migrant families and if it is also detrimental to the unity and universality of the truly Catholic Church. Remember, new structures are not desirable in this age of ecumenism; at least let us practice it within the Catholic Church.

Such new structures are not advisable and that is why the Holy Father says in the letter: “Although this situation has sometimes led to tensions in the course of history, today we can admire a Christian presence that is both rich and beautiful, complex and unique.” Then he says very clearly how his letter should be looked upon: “It should rather be seen as an invitation as well as an opportunity for growth in faith and communion”.

Let us not do anything that will go against our Catholic communion and the witness value of being one in Jesus who is always one with his Father and keeps on inviting us to be one in him ‘being in full accord and of one mind’ (Philippians 2: 2) and then Paul gives a beautiful advice which all the Catholics must bear in mind: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

A Catholic with the mind of Christ will definitely build a church of love and communion, not that of discord and division, and that will be a blessing for all the migrant Catholic families.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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