Interviews from a Missiological Perspective

Interviews from a Missiological Perspective


Puthiyidathu Mathew MCBS

The Means of Evangelization and of the Formation of Evangelizers – A Youth Response

The Means of Evangelization and of the Formation of Evangelizers –

A Youth Response

Puthiyidathu Mathew MCBS


The influence of different Christian movements and organizations has made several youngsters come forward with great enthusiasm and commitment to the Church and her mission in the modern world. The increasing number of youngsters gathered at the World Youth Day affirms this fact.  Each WYD produces new enthusiasm in the hearts of millions of youth, the present and the future of the Church.  After the WYD 2005 of Cologne Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the German Bishops on behalf of the youth, “Yes we came to worship him, we met him. Now help us to become his disciples and witnesses”.[1]

            The challenge is to help the young to live their ‘present’ here and now in the Church.  Youngsters are always searching for challenges; they like to move differently. The great Pope, the admirer of youth, John Paul II asked them to become a joyful contradiction in the modern world. 

            At the same time there is a large mass of people who are still far away from the Church, especially in the Asian continent.  The Universal Church is well aware of this situation and says, “It is indeed a mystery why the Saviour of the world, born in Asia, has until now remained largely unknown to the people of the continent”.[2] It must be remembered that “Evangelization and church – planting are a slow and painstaking work.  To reach the desired goal the evangelizer needs to use effective methods.  Thus not paying attention to effectiveness simply means that we are in fact using wrong methods.”[3]

The Importance of New Ways and Means

            Change is fundamental to the human person and to society.  As a social being man tries to adapt himself to his changing circumstances. The Church also is travelling the same way.  She searches and finds new possibilities to continue her mission in the modern world.  There is a wide horizon of possibilities open to us. “Missionary methods reflect the social relationships in the society where the church lives; new situations spawn new methods.  The church acquires a new self awareness, both cause and effect of a new way of existence, new ideas, new ministries, new apostolic movements etc”.[4]


Our duty is to benefit from it according to the needs of the time.  The Magisterium of the Church is very much open to new means in evangelization.  “How do we bring the message of Christ to non-Christian young people who represent the future of entire continents? Clearly, the ordinary means of pastoral work are not sufficient: what are needed are associations, institutions, special centers and groups, and cultural and social initiatives for young people.”[5]

            The traditional means of evangelization are not enough to cope with the modern technological world. “Missionary activity, which is carried out in a wide variety of ways, is the task of all the Christian faithful,”[6] The complex life situations invite us to find out more effective and attractive methods which give an impetus to the zeal of youngsters. Church also acknowledges it through her teachings, “This question of ‘how to evangelize’ is permanently relevant, because the methods of evangelizing vary according to the different circumstances of time, place and culture, and because they thereby present a certain challenge to our capacity for discovery and adaptation.”[7]

            One of the positive aspects of the missionary enthusiasm of the new generation is their sharing mentality.  They are ready to share their time, energy, talents, resources, prayer, etc, for the Kingdom of God.  At the same time they are very strict about the concrete results of their sharing.

            It is the duty and privilege of each and every one to find and open new vistas of attractive and effective means of evangelization.  It doesn’t mean that traditional ways are totally outdated.  Perhaps they are the foundation of our new endeavors and we are modifying them according to the needs of the time.  Each and every Christian has the obligation to proclaim the Good News. But each one is different and unique and so the ways and means of participation is also different.  One cannot be higher than the other, but only in the level of commitment of the individual.  At the same time we have to fan the flame in the hearts of many so that they may be more and more committed to their missionary vocation. 

            In this paper I intend to present some possible ways and means which would enable us to bring the Good News to the hearts of many.  This can help us to bring the mission nearer to the people, especially the youth, who are searching for their role in the Church’s missionary mandate. The formation of Laity is a special concern of the Church too. “The shortage of priests makes it imperative for us to givegreater attention to the formation of the laity and their effective participation in the apostolate.”[8] To achieve this goal, suitable ways and means must be evolved by answering to the needs of the situation.

  1. 1.      School of Evangelization

            “And how can they believe in him if they have never heard of him?  And how will they hear of him unless there is a preacher for them?  And how will there be preachers if they are not sent?” (Rom 10:14-15)

            The proclamation of the Good news is the duty of each and every Christian. It cannot be completed by a few priests and religious alone.  So the active participation of the lay people is very important. There are many churches which have been planted and nourished by lay missionaries.  The Church in Antioch in the first century is a decisive example for this.  “It is the task of the Pastors to ensure that the laity are formed as evangelizers to be able to face the challenges of the contemporary world, not just with worldly wisdom and efficiency, but with hearts renewed and strengthened by the truth of Christ.”[9]

            It is a matter of great encouragement and hope that “in many Asian countries, lay people are already serving as true missionaries, reaching out to fellow Asians who might never have contact with clergy and religious.”[10]

            Meanwhile ignorance of the Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church creates serious problems among lay missionaries.  Although well-motivated, their ignorance of essentials often causes more confusion in the mission field.  Systematic and continuous training is necessary for these missionaries.

A serious preparation is needed for all workers for evangelization. Such preparation is all the more necessary for those who devote themselves to the ministry of the Word. Being animated by the conviction, ceaselessly deepened, of the greatness and riches of the Word of God, those who have the mission of transmitting it must give the maximum attention to the dignity, precision and adaptation of their language. Everyone knows that the art of speaking takes on today a very great importance. How would preachers and catechists be able to neglect this?[11]

This training should help to build up a group of good missionaries.  A missionary must be a leader and he/she should train others as leaders.


An effective evangelizer needs prayer, leadership qualities and openness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  One of the effective methods of evangelization is the formation good leaders.  An effective evangelizer must win over a good number of followers.  Jesus spent more time with his disciples than with the crowd.  He conquered the world through his disciples.  We know that St. Paul also did the same. St. Paul instructs Timothy, “Pass on to reliable people what you have heard from me through many witnesses so that they in turn will be able to teach others.” (2Tim 2:2)


We have to find leaders from the community itself in order to preach the Gospel.  Yahweh said to Moses, “Collects me seventy of the elders of Israel, men you know to be the people’s elders and scribes.” (Num 11:16)


Training Programme


Proper training is an important aspect of the formation of the laity.

While we are spending great sums of money to educate and form our clergy in large houses of formation and with well-organized programs, we cannot allow the formation of laity, as particular groups or as lay ministries, to be neglected. …..  the local churches must be encouraged to appreciate and support lay formation programs. Remuneration of lay persons for their stable services must respect the demands of justice and charity.  Much could be improved in their programs of formation by an exchange of personnel and resources.[12]

            Sometimes the prolonged intellectual formation and training reduces the commitment and effectiveness of the mission.  Scriptural studies and teachings of the Church are the most important things to be learned by an evangelizer.  Long term training with all kinds of intellectual development may not be an effective way of training lay missionaries.  For instance, in a battle each person has his own position and weapon in which he has been trained well.  When somebody tries to master in all kinds of weapons simultaneously he/she becomes the master of none.  So also for an evangelizer the Word of God is the weapon given to him/her and he/she should have been trained well to use that weapon.        


Two kinds of training can be arranged: Formal and Informal.


a)                  Formal training: This training is focused on the individuals who are ready to spend their life in mission areas as full time missionaries or at least for three years in a particular area.


  • The training period can last up to three years.
  • The first session is for 6 months and after that they will be sent to the fields for six months.
  • The second session will last for 3/6 months and going back to the fields for 12/15 months.
  • The third session lasts 3/6 months and final commitment.


Main Thrusts in the course:


v  The Word of God                                                      

v  Prayer                                     

v  Openness to The Holy Spirit  

v  The providence of God

v  Special training for the ‘Kerygma’ (the explicit proclamation of the saving act of Christ).


b)     Informal Training:          Informal training is meant for young students as the future leaders and also for the women in the family who are able to become a leaven in the neighborhood.


            The Women flockare powerful evangelizers. It is evident especially in the North Eastern region of India. Their tender love and care for the neighborhood and society bring many conversions in the villages.  But I think we do not have an organized programme to tap this powerful resource.  With a little training we can make big differences.  In his General audience on 13th July 1994, Pope John Paul II appreciated the efficacy of women in spreading the Good news. “Woman has a quite special aptitude in passing on the faith, so much so that Jesus himself appealed to it in the work of evangelization. That is what happened to the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well: he chose her for the first expansion of the new faith in non-Jewish territory”.[13] Their role in evangelization particularly in person-to person cannot be ignored.  Church has given special attention to this mode of Gospel sharing.

For this reason, side by side with the collective proclamation of the Gospel, the other form of transmission, the person-to-person one, remains valid and important……. It must not happen that the pressing need to proclaim the Good News to the multitudes should cause us to forget this form of proclamation whereby an individual’s personal conscience is reached and touched by an entirely unique world that he receives from someone else.[14]

The involvement of women in evangelization activities is to be specially nourished through informal trainings like seminar on evangelization, prayer groups, bible study groups, etc.

  1. 2.      Mission Volunteers

            In this programme youngsters are encouraged to stay with missionaries for at least six months after their graduation. They will be trained as missionaries of Christ in different ways. They should have ample opportunities to explore their talents in mission and ministry according to their aptitude and creativity. This programme helps the youngsters to discover their aptitude in mission. It will be a period of experience that enables the youth to commit their whole life for the Kingdom of God where ever they may be. We can also hope for their support to the missions in different ways.       

The enthusiasm of youth to accept challenges is an important factor in this regard.  Our duty is to tap it properly and direct it positively.  We can see a renewed vigor in the hearts of youth all over the world.  The number of youth who are willing to live and share the gospel is increasing steadily. 

The Church asserts her hope about the youth whose participation in evangelization brings new enthusiasm in mission fields. “Circumstances invite us to make special mention of the young…….. young people who are well trained in faith and prayer must become more and more the apostles of youth. The Church counts greatly on their contribution, and we ourselves have often manifested our full confidence in them.”[15] The Church has great hope in their conviction, “To them the Church offers the truth of the Gospel as a joyful and liberating mystery to be known, lived and shared, with conviction and courage.”[16]


  • Inviting the youngsters through dioceses, retreat centres, youth movements and other religious organizations
  • Training for 10 to 40 days
  • Priority for village ministry
  • Food and accommodation provided / contribution is highly recommended
  • Preference for  smaller groups


  1. 3.      Mission Hostels and Teachers

            The Catholic Church is considered as one of the largest ‘NGOs’ in the country having a wide range of network and numerous institutions.  The government and politicians have accepted this fact openly or secretly.  Nobody will ever question the excellence of our social undertakings. But unfortunately, if we look at all of our activities from a Christian perspective, we cannot but admit that we are very poor in carrying out the Church’s missionary mandate, which is the core of all our activities.  When we realize that only a handful of institutions and activities are earnestly proclaiming the kerigma through their services, we ought to admit that a  large chunk is running out of track.

The Goal of the Programme

            The important goal of this programme is to train a group of youngsters who, enlightened by Christian values, become responsible for their life and community. They should become the light and salt of the community, especially in their schools and colleges. It is our duty help them in this regard.    

The system of Catholic education must become still more clearly directed towards human promotion, providing an environment where students receive not only the formal elements of schooling but, more broadly, an integral human formation based upon the teachings of Christ.Catholic schools should continue to be places where the faith can be freely proposed and received (EA-37). [17]

We achieve our goal in and through Jesus.  Students should have the opportunity to hear and experience the love of God. In short our ultimate aim is to give Jesus to the young hearts so that they may become blessings for the community.  Jesus will colour their lives.  This is the hope and vision.

            Adolescence is an important and crucial period of time where the young search for identity.  If we are able to inculcate Christian values in them and directing them to find their identity in Jesus, it will bear much fruits. 

            Since school is a large arena, giving personal care is very difficult.  So we think of hostels. A hostel with 40 to 100 catholic students both boys and girls where each one will be cared for and nourished properly, is our vision.

             Apostolic schools run by different dioceses are a possibility in this regard.

Working Strategy

  • Identify a group of 40 to 100 catholic students of class 7 and above
  • They will be selected according to different criterion
  • Different types of training programmes for their spiritual, intellectual and social developments
  • Full scholarship is given, though contribution from them is appreciated


            Genuinelymotivated and committed teachers can do wonders through their students.  Proper training will help them to live their life more profoundly.

For education in schools to become more effective as a vehicle of transformation in society, a true and proper vision and spirituality among teachers are needed.  This vision requires that the task of teaching be viewed as a call from God to share in the teaching ministry of Jesus who announced and taught about the Kingdom and that teaching is not simply the communication of knowledge but even more importantly the formation in values.  From such a vision flows a spirituality involving sacrifice, other-directedness, concern, love, justice and other Gospel values.  As in catechesis, the more effective is not the one who simply teaches but the one who also witnesses.[18]

ü  Committed mission teachers will take care of the children

ü  Only devout Catholics having mission motivation will be selected as teachers

ü  Teachers will have Good salary package

ü  They should undergo a mission training programme for at least 30 days.

ü  Day time teachers will be entrusted with prayer and village ministry which includes informal schooling and women empowerment programmes

ü  They would assist the children in the evening

ü  A teacher has the responsibility of 15 to 20 students

ü  Life of the teacher should be a witness for the children

Mission teachers working in some of our catholic schools are doing great services to the Church.

  1. 4.       Mission Clinics

            A mission clinic enables aspiring nurses and doctors to serve God’s kingdom by liberating the sick and the needy from their bondage.  This experience of mission will produce much fruit in the long run.

            Motivated by divine love, youngsters voluntarily spend certain months of their important span of life to share this love.  It may be a few months or one to two years.  It may help them to be more generous to the poor in their future life.  Their support even after their period of commitment is expected.  The village youth can possibly be motivated by the service of these volunteers.

Mode of Action

  • Arranging village clinics according to the availability of the doctors and nurses
  •  Possibility of getting medicine free of cost
  • Finding the aspiring nurses and doctors is done through retreat centres and other youth movements
  • Assistance of religious sisters are also recommended
  • Medical camps can be conducted in the villages where the sick and needy receive the message about the divine healer
  • Explicit proclamation also is possible through this group


  1. 5.                  Tourism for mission

            We are familiar with terms like eco-tourism, health tourism, etc.  Mission Tourism   aims at giving some idea about mission fields to the people who are really interested in mission but have not been able to be directly engaged in the process of evangelization. We help them to have a foretaste of the mission. The possibility of using tourism as an activity of mission is a concern of The Church too.

International tourism has now become a mass phenomenon. This is a positive development if tourists maintain an attitude of respect and a desire for mutual cultural enrichment, avoiding ostentation and waste, and seeking contact with other people. But Christians are expected above all to be aware of their obligation to bear witness always to their faith and love of Christ. Firsthand knowledge of the missionary life and of new Christian communities also can be an enriching experience and can strengthen one’s faith. Visiting the missions is commendable, especially on the part of young people who go there to serve and to gain an intense experience of the Christian life.[19]               

            Our target groups are the professionals and employees working in and outside the country.

Mode of Action

            Interested people are invited to visit some of the mission centres. They will get opportunities to understand the village life and people.  Those interested can stay in the village for two or three days.  If they wish we will direct them to other tourist places in the region.  All expenses must be met by them.

Expected Results

v  Heard knowledge turns to touch knowledge.

v  They can find out their own possible way to support the community with their professional experiences in different walks of life. For eg: an engineer sees the things and recognizes the possibilities from his perspective.  So as in the case of doctors, business men, educators, social workers etc

v  Can be motivated by the selfless work of the missionaries

v  Can be motivated by the role of the church

v  May help us through their prayer and resources

v  May encourage others

v  Possibility of vocation from the group or from their offspring

v  Moreover, it may help to increase the esteem of missionaries in the hearts of ordinary people

It is true that everything needs a large amount of home work and preparations.

  1. 6.      Business as Mission

Through this programme we try to lead business people to an encounter with Jesus and there by a personal God experience.  There are good number of positive business people also. We motivate them to start some enterprises attune to the specialty of particular area and culture.  The conversion of such people, when it is supported with their time and resources will make great difference in the mission fields. 

 In this context the laity belonging to the world of business hear the call of God to live out their faith according to Gospel values and the needs of the others.  This involves a number of options in their business- from the simple exercise of the values of truth, justice and love to their active participation in transforming the social structure of the whole process towards greater worker participation, more discerning consumer guidance, more responsible interventions by Governments and a more equitable society.[20]

Highly populated modern cities are formed due to the establishment of big industries and multinational companies. They have created a culture which mostly degrades and diminishes the human values and leads to greed, self centeredness and all kinds of luxuries etc.

Business as mission calls the catholic business people who are ready to do something for the poor.  When we support them for such endeavors they are expected to do something for the people according to their growth in the business.  They can support missionary activities in different ways, such as primary school, clinics, training centers, student scholarships etc. In order to support the entrepreneurs practicing and enthusiastic catholic persons should be employed.

  1. 7.            Church in Asia Forum

“The heart of the Church in Asia will be restless until the whole of Asia finds its rest in the peace of Christ, the Risen Lord.” (EA-10)


The goal of this forum is to enrich and keep up the missionary zeal in the hearts of seminarians/religious/lay people in order to make them equipped for the Evangelization, with an emphasis on Asia, tuned with the call of the Church especially through the Vatican II, encyclicals and other documents of the Magisterium on mission.  Universal Church hopes a real spring time in Asia.”Just as in the first millennium the Cross was planted on the soil of Europe, and in the second on that of the Americas and Africa, we can pray that in the Third Christian Millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in this vast and vital continent.” (EA-1)

Since our main focus is seminarians, we are not planning to do some mission works during this formation period but we are trying to be equipped for our future mission through different means.

Some of the aims

  • To make the seminarians say ‘yes’ to mission.
  • A common plat form for deepening the mission interest
  • To help the brothers know more about mission activities.
  • A forum that thinks dreams and prays for mission.
  • Helps to prepare for future mission.

Some of the Means

  • Adoption and Intercession for different countries and Indian states.
  • Short term training programmes.
  • Sharing sessions of active missionaries from different parts of the country.
  • Reading of magazines, leaflets and palm lets which give motivation.
  • Watching of some encouraging movies and documentaries about mission.
  • Study of the official teachings of the Church which speak about mission mandate (Apostolic letters, encyclicals etc..).
  • Modern medias and communication technologies especially Internet.


  1. 8.      Cultural Exchange Programme

The youth from younger Christian communities are motivated to visit the places where they can be enriched through the faith life of the people. In order to experience the life of the people they can be put up in different houses.  A better understanding the country and cultures would broaden the mind as well as the spiritual encounter through different programmes would strengthen the faith of the youth. 

  1. 9.      Specific Ministries

There are different organizations and Associations where likeminded people from different profession and carrier coming together for their common cause.  Trade unions, Employment organizations, etc are familiar to us.  In such institutions people come together and think together and move together. 

Evangelization also can be done in such a way that one student invites another students, one teacher preaches to another, one doctor motivates to another..etc. When a person really motivated by the love of God he/she spontaneously shares and invites others to experience that joy.  It is easy for him/her to share it with whom he/she meets every day life.  As a result of such individual initiatives there can be different ministries like campus, teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses, policemen etc.  Conducting retreats, arranging prayer groups…etc are some of the means to achieve this goal.

  1. 10.  Village Outreach

In this programme a group of youngsters after having a short orientation programme reach out to villages where they spent few days according to the need of the village.  They stay in different houses according to the number of the team and involve in different activities.  They visit houses as a group of 3 to 5 members.

Usually in the remote villages people go for their work during the day. So they spend time in prayer and gather the children who are out of the school.  Visiting and praying over the sick and elderly people is another activity during the day. Children may be animated through stories, catechism, songs etc.  In the evening they meet the family members, conduct prayer groups, share the gospel and if possible they show some devotional movies also.  Through such direct interventions they are able to touch the hearts personally.

Visiting Houses: during the visitation one of them hears the parent/family member and shares gospel through his/her personal experiences.  Mean while others pray in heart unceasingly.  If necessary they also interact with children in order to avoid distractions in the conversation. Inviting the family members for the evening prayer meeting also should be done.

Results:  personal interaction will help convincing the people easily.  Hearing the worries and grievances of the people will be a great comfort for them.  In many instances people have come back to the church and the sacraments.  Since the fruit of the programme is very evident for the participants deepens their faith.


  1. 11.  Special Thrust on Activities Among Politicians and Celebrities

“Missionary cooperation can also involve leaders in politics, economics, culture and journalism, as well as experts of the various international bodies” (RM-82).

Gospel should be proclaimed in every walk of life. Christian missionaries having the idea of option for the poor, have moved towards rural villages.  But at the same time we fail to evangelize the elite and rich people whose conversion could have resulted a dramatic change in the missionary activities.  The rapid growth of the protestant churches are in a way indebted to such conversions.

Influence of politicians and other people like film actors, sports persons, musicians etc, in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people cannot be ignored.  A single sentence of such persons influence the people like a 10 second advertisement in the Television.  Thousand preachers’ influence can be achieved with a split of second. We witnessed such an incident when the Brazilian player showed the words on his dress which proclaimed ‘we belong to Jesus’ after their victory in the 2002 World Cup foot ball. It was seen by more than one billion people!

In the same way the involvement of laity in the politics is very important. It will help us to influence the policies of the government.

The need of the hour in Asia is for competent and principled lay persons to enter into the realm of party politics and from within, influence the philosophies, programs and activities of political parties and personalities for the common good in the light of the gospel.  We commend the lay persons who already have contributed much to this area of public life.[21]

The assassination of Shabhaz Bhatti, Pakistani minister for Minorities who spoke against blasphemy law made a great impact in the life of the faithful in Pakistan.  His words are really strengthening the persecuted Christians in Pakistan.


We are taken you through these methods which are of course not exhaustive.  Looking into what we have presented, we are aware of their incompleteness and limits.  Each of these methods though effective in their own way besides their limits, has the power to change the lives of people.  We need to place these methods in their cultural contexts to reap maximum fruits.  Or we need to adapt these methods into the culture where it will be planted this could only muster the result we expect.  At this point let me also remind that the church has never been stagnant.  Church will encounter new ways in the future. There is no method that is called the best.  Suitable methods evolve from answering to the needs of the situation.   Still we should not forget that no method is effective unless we follow the biblical method which is seen in Acts 2:43-47. Believers came together for prayer, breaking of the bread, sharing, etc.  The life based on Christian charity and communion attracted many. There by the number of believers were also increased steadily. Sharing the Good News is not a propaganda it should be a life witness motivated by one’s own personal God experience.  This is the challenge which is responded by an evangelizer throughout the life.

[1]Benedict XVI,

[2] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, no. 2.

[3] Paul Vadadkkumpadan, Mission in North East India, Shillong: Vendrame Institute Publications, 2007, p 141.

[4]Felipe Gomes S.J, “Method in Mission: Lessons from the History of the Church,” in Indian Missiological Review, January-1989, Vol.11, No.1, pp 15-53


[5] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, Encyclical, no. 37.

[6] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 71.

[7] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, Apostolic Exhortation, no. 40.

[8] Indian Missiological Review, January-1989, Vol.11, No.1, pp 54-60, Emerging Priorities and New Perspectives of Evangelization in Asia, ( A summary of the discussions:  All Asian Conference on Evangelization, Suwon, South Korea- 24-31 August 1988)

[9] Propostio no. 29, as sited in John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 45.

[10] Propostio no. 29, as sited in John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 45.

[11] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi,no. 73.

[12] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47,  p 43.


[13] L’Osarvatore Romano, No.29, July- 20, 1994, p 7.

[14] Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi,no.46.

[15] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 72.

[16] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 47.

[17] John Paul II, Ecclesia In Asia, no. 37.

[18] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47,            p 33

[19] John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, no. 82.

[20] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47, p 36


[21] FABC, Final Statement of Fourth Plenary Assembly, September 16-25, 1986, Tokyo, Japan, in FABC Papers No.47, p 26.

Dominus Jesus and Mission

Dominus Jesus and Mission

Dr Vincent Kundukulam
Dr Vincent Kundukulam

Vincent Kundukulam

 No other Vatican document has produced so many storms in the recent past like Dominus Iesus,(DI), a Declaration prepared by the Office of the Congregation for Doctrine of Faith (CDF) and by the Pope John Paul II and published on 6 August 2000.  There ensued many discussions about DI in the form of study seminars and symposiums and through the publication of books, theological journals and popular magazines both inside and outside the Catholic Church. The conservative groups in different religions and Christian denominations came out with severe criticisms against it. Among the Indian catholic theological journals, Jeevadhara brought out a special issue in May 2001, a collection of reactions from theologians representing various continents. We are not in a position to examine this voluminous literature and that is not our objective too. Our aim is to understand the concerns of Dominus Jesus from a missiological perspective and the reasons for which it is known as a polemic document.

 1. Nature of the Document

 The Declaration Dominus Jesus besides the introduction and conclusion contains six small chapters and is spread in 23 numbers. Compared to other Vatican teachings like Redemptoris Missio or Fides et Ratio which have 92 and 108 paragraphs respectively, DI is not a very big document. It does not contribute any new insight regarding the uniqueness of Christ or unicity of Church. It reiterates only what has been taught in previous magisterial documents about this subject. Then naturally one may ask why does it create so much uproar.

A look into sources of this Letter gives us a glimpse on the nature of the document. Apparently this heavily documented Declaration is largely based on the open perspectives of Second Vatican Council. For, among the 102 citations 42 belongs to Second Vatican Council and 30 are taken from the encyclicals of John Paul II. But a close scrutiny of these citations shows that the drafter is very much selective in his references. He has chosen mainly the orthodox statements, which reinforce the primacy of Christ, Church and mission and seldom refers to the passages of inclusive and integrating order. The 7 citations from Ancient Councils and 5 from CCC add to its exclusive language.

 2. Purpose of the Declaration

The objective of the document, as made explicit in its beginning, is to recall to bishops, theologians and the faithful certain indispensable elements of Christian doctrine which would help them develop answers consistent with the content of faith and refute erroneous or ambiguous positions regarding faith (no: 3). This intention is again repeated in the last number: “Faced with certain problematic and even erroneous propositions, theological reflection is called to reconfirm the Church’s faith and to give reasons for her hope in a way that is convincing and effective” (no: 23).

 What are the erroneous doctrines that the document refer to? Mainly, these are propositions originating from relativism. DI rules out the mentality of indifferentism, which leads to the belief that Jesus is one of the manifestations of God and that one religion is as good as another. It takes extreme care to defend the uniqueness of Christ and unicity of Church. But a cautious reading of the Letter will show that these Christological and ecclesiological concerns are led by another objective namely to rejuvenate missionary preaching and baptism. The propositions coming from relativist ideologies had cast shadows of doubts regarding the need of missionary proclamation.

This missiological concern is very clear from the document, which laments that inspite of two thousand years of missionary efforts the mission still remains far from complete. DI cites St. Paul crying, “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (I Cor 9, 16) (no 2). Moreover the fact that the document begins with the missionary command of Resurrected Jesus to the disciples to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world and to baptize all nations shown in all the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, 28, 19-20; Mk 16, 15-16; Lk 24, 46-48) make evident the priority of the Declaration for mission. (no 1)

 3. Affirmations of DI

            From the above explanation the three theological disciplines in which the document likes to put certain order is very clear. They are Christology, Ecclesiology and Missiology. Though the sixth chapter deals with the salvific value of non-Christian religions it is not a major preoccupation of the Declaration. If it were so, the document should have positively defined their role in building the kingdom of God.

 3.1 Christological: Jesus, the only Unique Redeemer

One of the main assertions of DI is that Jesus Christ is the mediator and the universal redeemer. Christ, the Son of God Lord and only Saviour, through the event of incarnation, death and resurrection, has brought the history of salvation to fulfillment and there is no other name under heaven among men by which they can be saved (no 13). God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, exalted and placed at his right hand constituting him judge of the living and the dead. This gives him unique, singular, exclusive, absolute and universal significance as the mediator of the world (no 15)

The document rejects the concept of limited, incomplete or imperfect character of revelation of Jesus Christ which will be complementary to that found in other religions. It denies also the underlying relativist theory, which says that God cannot be grasped and manifested in its globality and completeness by any historical religion. According to the document this theory is not applicable to the person of Jesus. The truth about God is not abolished or reduced even though it is spoken in human language by Jesus because he who speaks and acts here is the Incarnate Son of God (no 6) The attitude of perceiving Jesus as a particular, finite, historical figure manifesting one of the many faces of Logos communicating with humanity in course of the history does not conform to the faith of the Church. (no 9)

DI cautions against the different sorts of separation made by the progressive theologians: between Jesus of history and Christ of faith; between humanity and divinity of Jesus Christ and between the economy of salvation realized through the Three Persons of Trinity in order to create space for the mediations of other religions in the salvific project of God. The document denies the view that there are two economies of salvation: one of the Eternal Word, which is valid even outside the Church and another of the Incarnated Word, which is limited to the Christians. (no 9) The declaration does not accept any separation between the Word and Jesus Christ and the salvific actions of the Word as such and that of the Word made flesh (no 10)

            DI admits the work of the Spirit extending beyond the visible boundaries of the Church and affecting other cultures, peoples, and religions. It quotes Gs 22: “For since Christ has died for all and since all men are called to one and the same destiny we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the Paschal mystery”. But the declaration does not accept a separate economy of the Holy Spirit with a more universal breadth than that of the Incarnate Word. It is the same Spirit who is active among other religions and who was at work in the life death and resurrection of Jesus and now present in the Church. The action of the Spirit is not parallel to that of Christ.  (no 12)

 3.2 Ecclesiological: Necessity of Church

            The fourth and fifth chapters of the document defend the Unicity of the Church. Because there is an historical continuity between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church DI argues that she has the fullness of Christ’s salvific mystery. Just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the Church can neither be confused nor separated, and constitute single ‘whole Christ’. Just as there is one Christ so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ, a single Catholic and apostolic Church. Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. (no 16)

            Church being the legitimate continuation of Christ claims the declaration: ‘none can empty or deny the intimate connection between Christ, the Kingdom and the Church’. The declaration is aware that the kingdom of God is not identical with the Church in her visible and social reality. Church is oriented toward the kingdom of God, of which she is the seed, sign and instrument. Yet while remaining distinct from Christ and the kingdom, the Church is indissolubly united to both. Church is the kingdom of Christ already present in mystery. (no 18) On account of the indissoluble mysterious relationship that Church has with Christ, it would be contrary to faith to consider Church as one way of salvation along side those constituted by other religions. Other religions cannot be seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if they will converge with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. (no 21)

 After affirming the specificity of Church DI alerts the Catholics not to boast of their exalted condition: ‘if they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed, not only they shall not be saved but also they shall be more severely judged’. (no 22) In fact these chapters reveal drafter’s tension to keep two truths together: the necessity of the Church for salvation on the one hand and the possibility of salvation for all mankind in Christ on the other. DI finds Church necessary for salvation because of Christ’s presence in her. Since Church is united always in a mysterious way to the Saviour Jesus Christ, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. She is the universal sacrament of salvation. But at the same time DI affirms that to those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation is accessible by virtue of a grace. (no 20).

 3.3 Missiological: Urgency of Mission

            Apart from relativism, what put down the missionary zeal in the Church is misunderstanding caused by some forged concepts of dialogue. Some missionaries doubt the need to work for the conversion of the gentiles if the latter are already on the way of salvation while they obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Responding to this situation DI explains the basic reason for evangelization: God has made himself in the fullest possible way known to Christians. Since Church possesses the definitive revelation of God she has by her nature to be missionary. (no 5)

According to DI though the followers of other religions can receive divine grace in their own religions, it is also certain that they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who in the Church have the fullness of the means of salvation. Hence the Church, to whom the fullness of Truth has been entrusted, has the duty to bring them the full truth. Guided by charity and respect for freedom Church must commit herself to proclaim the truth revealed by the Lord, to announce the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of the adherence to the Church through baptism and other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (no 22)

 With regard to dialogue DI says that the inter-religious dialogue does not relegate the necessity of mission. Dialogue is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes. Inter-religious dialogue as well the mission ad gentes today as always retains its full force and necessity. Dialogue does not replace but rather accompanies the missio ad gentes. In brief the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish but rather increase the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ. (no 22)

4. Attitude towards other Religions

            In some instances DI endorses the open outlook of Second Vatican Council. For example, the first chapter quotes NA 2: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life and conduct, the precepts and teachings, which although differing in many ways from her own teaching, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men”. Referring to the universal salvific will of God DI admits that ‘the sacred books of other religions receive from the mystery of Christ the elements of goodness and grace for God who desires to call all people to himself in Christ and to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation. God’s love does not fail to make himself present in many ways not only to individuals but also to entire people through their spiritual riches. Hence other religions are the main and essential expression of God’s revelation even when they contain gaps, insufficiencies and errors’ (no 8). A similar attitude is obvious in the last chapter: “Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements, which come from God, and which are parts of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions” (no 21)

 But in many other parts DI compares Christianity with other religions and thereby downplays their value. First of all, the document makes a distinction between faith in Christianity and belief in other religions. Theological faith gives Christians revealed truth whereas beliefs of other religions are the sum of experience of human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which are still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God who reveals himself.  (no 7) Secondly DI makes a distinction between the sacred writings of other religions and Bible. The Scriptures of other religions contain however some elements to nourish and maintain inter-relationship with God but they can not be considered as inspired texts, a title which is reserved only to the Canonical Books of the Bible as they are inspired by the Holy Spirit. (no 8) Thirdly, DI compares the Christian prayers and rituals with that of other religions. DI recognizes some of them as preparation for the Gospel but it does not attribute to them a divine origin or ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. (no 21)

 In the light of above pages we can certainly say that Dominus Jesus projects an ambivalent attitude towards Non-Christians. In one context, it would say that other religions receive elements of goodness and grace from God and in spite of the errors contained in them, are essential expressions of God’s revelation (no 8). But on other occasions DI does not hesitate to affirm that other religions are in a gravely deficient situation (no 22) and that they are the sum of experience of human treasury of wisdom and religious aspiration, which still lacks assent to God’s revelation (no 7). Such sort of incoherence happens partly due to the presence of members having diverse sensibilities in the redaction committee. When Pope John Paul II convened the meeting of leaders of the World Religions at Assisi in 1986 there were some misgivings already in the Vatican and Pope had to give a special address to the Roman Curia explaining the theological foundations of that initiative. We will now see non-Catholic reception of Dominus Iesus.

 5. Reactions from outside Church

            Abd-al-Haqq, the director of Institute for Islamic Higher Studies at Paris thinks that Dominus Jesus is “taking a step back”. He observes that for the first time in the history of humanity the religions coexist in different continents and above all they encounter and know mutually. We can no more understand Truth in the same way as in the past. God does not want to be exhausted by one faith. Haqq regrets of the exclusive attitude in Dominus Jesus and he is afraid that such kind of text reinforces the rigid attitude in Islam. (La Croix, 7 September 2000, Paris)

Olivier Clement, an orthodox theologian who has been engaging in ecumenical dialogue since years comments that “this abrupt way of saying things make me to think that this text is a reaction of those who have difficulty in the Curia to accept the open attitude of John Paul II. I don’t see any continuity between this text and Ut unum sint (1995), an encyclical on the unity of Christians. Rabbi Korsia, the director of College of Rabbis in France, does not understand why a text from Vatican takes position on Judaism. When the Association of Rabbis makes a declaration to the Jews, it does not discuss any issue related to the Catholic Church. It is true that each religion must be able to articulate for its own members where lays the Truth. The only thing that we accuse is the fact of imposing one’s own truth on others. (La Croix, 7 September 2000, Paris, p.11)

            The Hindu world, the Sangh Parivar in particular, could not digest the premises of Dominus Iesus. N.S. Rajaram, an ideologist of RSS writes: “In a just released document titled Declaration of Lord Jesus the Vatican proclaims non-Christians to be in a gravely deficient situation” and that even non-Catholic churches have “defects” because they do not acknowledge the primacy of Pope. This of course means that the Vatican refuses to acknowledge the spiritual right (and freedom) of non-Catholics. This consigns non-Christians to hell, and the only way they can save themselves is by becoming Christians, preferably Catholics, by submitting to the Pope. (Organizer, 3 June 2001, Delhi, p. 19)

 6. Lacking pedagogy of encounter

 As we mentioned in the introduction a bundle of articles had already come out criticizing this document. Due to constraint of time we will discuss about only one aspect, namely language of DI.

No doubt, the tone, style and language of the Declaration are very different from that of the Second Vatican Council. The Council Decrees by its inclusive style generates in the reader a feeling of harmony. Reading them we are moved to work with all peoples, cultures and religions. For example see the human fellowship outlined in Nostra aetate: “All men form but one community. This is so because all stem from the one stock” (no 1) Gaudium et spes writes: “Through loyalty to conscience Christians are joined to other men in the search for truth and for the right solution to so many moral problems which arise both in the life of individuals and from social relationships. (no 16).

But this spirit of commonality or togetherness is unseen in Dominus Jesus. Exclusive language, imposing style and comparative statements of DI nourish a ghetto culture. Referring to the language of DI, Felix Wilfred has rightly observed that Church still lacks the pedagogy of dialogue. Many misunderstand tolerance, compassion and the concern for other’s faith as compromise. We are afraid to follow in our relationship with other religions the path of renunciation and kenosis showed by Jesus. The only way to get rid of this fear is to let us be touched by the neighbour (La Croix, 28 September 2000).

Some may underestimate Felix’s comment, as he is a theologian, known for his modernism. But Joseph Dore, Archbishop of Strasbourg, known for his orthodoxy and allegiance to Vatican, also confesses that the style of DI is different from that of the Council. There are expressions of command like “In fact it must be firmly believed that” (no 5) “It must be firmly held” (no 7) “all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that” (no 22), etc. in the document, which may badly affect its reception by local Churches. (La Croix, 6 September 2000). Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi, CBCI Vice-President said, “Dominus Iesus is immediately relevant to the multi-religious and multi-cultural situation in India but it was felt that the document has to be toned down”. (The New Leader, vol. 114, no:10, June 1-15, 2001, p.30.)

            As Jacob Parappally notes, DI cannot but be exclusive because its language is confessional. Our task is to proclaim the faith of the Church in the context of plurality of religions and ecclesial communities. It is the charism of the local Churches to evolve a language in which the faith affirmations can be meaningfully communicated. Overemphasis on the historicity of Jesus in DI reduces him to be one among the founders of religion. DI makes Jesus Christ small and his Church a sect. (Parappally, Profession and Proclamation of Faith, Jeevadhara, vol, 31, no 183, May 2001, pp. 225-227)

            Against the above-mentioned accusations CDF’s response was that DI is not destined to other religions. But this argument does not stand in Asia and Africa where to be religious means to be inter-religious. Whatever is said by one religion affects all others. Nobody can seek God in isolation here. In such a context the Church teachings must be expressed in local cultures. “Doing Asian Theology in Asia Today’ (DATAT), a document published by FABC in October 2000 seems to be a glaring example. It begins with addressing the threat of relativism, as does DI. But DATAT does not equate relativism with pluralism; instead as Second Vatican Council, DATAT advocates pluralism in theology.  At the same time it warns against irresponsibility or indifferentism with matters affecting the faith of the Church. When DI relegates other religious traditions to beliefs still in search of truth DATAT draws nourishment from Asian cultures. DI presents Church as custodian of Truth but DATAT consider Truth as mystery, to be approached with reverence. This reverence does not allow FABC make judgment upon other religions (Jeevadhara, vol, 31, no 183, May 2001, pp. 230-233)

            The absence of the theology of incarnation has also affected the missiological perspective of DI. It finds the source of mission in Jesus’ missionary command to the apostles after resurrection. To base mission on this mandate is an outdated approach. The Second Vatican Council accepts the Mystery of Incarnation as the source and model of evangelization. As Jesus who, being sent by the Father, assumed what is good in humanity the missionary must assimilate the fruits of Spirit already present in the local culture before announcing the Gospel. Unfortunately, DI is silent about inculturation, dialogue, liberative actions, witness, etc. which should precede mission.

7. There is yet to hope for

Inspite of all the above noted drawbacks DI cannot be, in my view, totally discarded because all along with the rigid standpoints it has also retained inclusive attitude of Second Vatican Council. For example, the document still believes in the participatory mediation of other religions: “The unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation, which is, but a participation in this one source. These participatory forms of mediation acquire meaning and value only from Christ’s own mediation. They cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his.” (no: 14)

Similarly, DI has not totally identified Church with Christ and the Kingdom: “The kingdom of God is not identified with the Church in her visible and social reality. In fact the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the Church’s visible boundaries must not be excluded. Therefore, one must also bear in mind that the kingdom is the concern of everyone: individuals, society and the world”. (no 19 On the contrary if DI had equated Church with Kingdom there would have been no room left for dialogue and inculturation.

 It must also be noted that the Declaration believes in the salvation of those who remain outside Catholic Church by means of a special grace from God: “For those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace, which while having a mysterious relationship to the Church does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way, which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the Holy Spirit (no: 20).

 Above all, the document promotes the freedom of theologians to cogitate over the mystery of salvation. DI invites the theologians to explore in what way the historical figures and positive elements of other religions fall within the divine plan of salvation. (no 14) It encourages them to find out the meaning of the statement in AG 7 saying: “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him “(no 21). The present Pope Benedict XVI during the Holy Mass that he offered on the subsequent day of his election (20th April 2005) promised to continue the efforts of dialogue commenced by his predecessor. Let us hope that Church will rediscover the vision of the Council about other religions.

The Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church:Theological Considerations

The Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church

Theological Considerations

Dr George Karakunnel
Dr George Karakunnel


             After the Second Vatican Council communion has emerged   in the Church as the leading ecclesiological idea. Communion is understood not merely as the form of being for the Church but also as the essence of the Church at the micro and macro levels of her existence. The mission of the Church is linked to this key concept. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church shows this in the very opening article: “Since the Church, in Christ, is in the nature of sacrament — a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men – she here purposes, for the benefit of the faithful and of the whole world, to set forth, as clearly as possible, and in the tradition laid down by earlier Councils, her own nature and universal mission[1]. The very being of the Church as communion demands mission. Ecclesiology is already missiology. This paper would search for an understanding of the mission of the Syro-Malabar Church remaining within the general frame of the theology of the Church as communion while at the same time looking at the identity and role of Individual Churches within the context of oriental ecclesiology.


I. The Reality of Individual Churches

The Catholic Church comprises of various Individual Churches of which the Latin Church with over 1000 million people is the largest body. There are twenty-three Eastern Churches altogether having around 22  million faithful.[2] The composition of the Catholic Church in India is from three individual Churches, namely, the Syro-Malabar Church, the Latin Church,  and the Syro-Malankara Church. The presence of diversity of Churches within the one Church needs not only to be theologically accounted but also to be practically accepted and lived within the horizon of a broad ecclesiology. The Catholic Church, which has been long dominated by a one-sided vision of the Church determined by Latin Canon Law, came to a new awareness of the ecclesial reality with the Second Vatican Council. The earlier narrow outlook got slowly changed and is replaced by a new ecclesiological vision.[3]

The Second Vatican Council which remains as the springboard of contemporary ecclesiology has employed a variety of concepts and terms in interpreting the reality of the Church. The following usages are especially important: particular Church, individual Church, local Church, and universal Church. Particular Church is often identified with a diocese[4]. It is also used to refer to Church of a region, village, town, state or nation[5]. Sometimes it is used to refer to individual Churches[6]. A diocese is often described as local Church over which a bishop is given charge[7]. The terms “local Church” and “particular Church” also are used for patriarchal Churches[8].

           The term “Individual Church” is used in the context of an all-inclusive ecclesiology. It means a Church that has emerged with specific form of life having its own liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. This can be well described in the words of Lumen Gentium:


By divine providence it has come about that various Churches established in diverse places by the Apostles and their successors have in the course of time coalesced into several groups, organically united, which, preserving the unity of faith and unique constitution of the universal Church, enjoy their own discipline, their own liturgical usage, and their own theological and spiritual heritage. Some of these Churches, notably the ancient patriarchal Churches, as parent-stocks of the faith, so to speak, have begotten others as daughter Churches. With these they are connected down to our own time by a close bond of charity in their sacramental life and in their mutual respect for rights and duties.[9]

The difference in the identity of Individual Churches is the reason for their separate existence and government.[10]  Every Individual Church is linked with a rite and sometimes the term “ritual Church” is used to denote Individual Churches.[11] It is not just by having a liturgical rite alone that an Individual Church is constituted. The identity of a Church is not constituted by one factor alone. It is related to the entire life and history of a Church.[12] Since liturgical rite is one of the concrete and explicit differentiating factors of a Church, the term “rite-Church” or “ritual Church” is used to denote Individual Churches that belong to the Oriental tradition. But in fact these                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             usages are misleading and do create a false understanding of the Individual Churches. In fact many Individual Churches’ names also have apparently a false connotation. The term, “Syro-Malabar” may be suggestive of a geographically situated Church. For that reason theologians have found difficulty with its name.[13] But this is so because of historical reasons of its origin. In fact there are people who are not familiar with Oriental Churches think that the Syro-Malabar Church and other Individual Churches are limited to a locality and cannot exist as a world-wide ecclesial body.

The Decree on Oriental Churches has stated clearly that Individual Churches both Eastern and Western are of equal rank, so that none of them is superior to others because of its rite.[14] They, as Individual Churches, are autonomous self-expressions of the full reality of the Church. The Code of Canon Law calls these Churches “sui iuris” to show their autonomous character.[15]  Autonomy is rooted in the history and tradition of these Churches. It is not created or given. It presupposes certain distinctive features. Theological understanding of autonomy may be described in the following words: “Autonomy is not something that one obtains from someone or somewhere but it is a constitutive element in the very being of a person or a Church. It is an essential condition for both, a free and genuine self-expression and self-determination. It is the result of the action of the Spirit in a given community, and not a mere juridical concession made over by hierarchy. God sends his Word and Spirit into the community in order that he may bring it into being and make it operative. Autonomous means to be operative according to a norm that is self-contained – not self-produced — which is in fact the law of the Spirit.”[16] The Syro-Malabar Church with its history of two millennia has a missionary heritage which it strives to preserve and promote through its life and witness. The Marga (Way) as Christian faith was known in the tradition of St Thomas Christians became genuinely inculturated in the milieu it encountered.[17] In the interaction between Gospel and culture in India the Church of St Thomas Christians offers a paradigm in itself.

2.  Autonomy, Diversity and Communion


The Universal Church is understood as a communion of Individual Churches. It is constituted by them and cannot exist apart from them. Vatican II has seen Individual Churches within the ecclesiology of communion, which is rooted in the Bible and the teachings of the Fathers. The use of the plural term “Churches” in the New Testament contains the idea of diversity as determining the concrete shape of the one Church, which is constituted by different Churches. The Individual Churches though different are bound together by common elements, namely, confession of the same apostolic faith, participation in the same sacraments, common Christian life-style i.e. life in the service of the Kingdom of God and mutual recognition of pastoral leadership.

There is often a wrong ecclesiology that tends to image the Universal Church as the sum total of various small units, that are equated with dioceses which are understood as  “parts” of the “whole”. Such an understanding does not respect autonomy. As a consequence there will be centralization and domination of one Church over others. An authentic ecclesiology sees the Church as a communion realized in a legitimate diversity. The Catholic Church in this way would be described as the communion of many Individual Churches, which are in communion with each other, and with the Bishop of Rome who is seen as the visible sign and focal point of this communion. Vatican II articulated its ecclesiology accepting the individuality of Churches most clearly in its decree on Eastern Churches. The decree says:

That Church, Holy and Catholic which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit through the same faith, the same sacraments, and the same government and who, combining into various groups held together by a hierarchy, form separate Churches or Rites. Between these, flourishes such an admirable brotherhood that this variety, within the Church in no way harms her unity, but rather manifests it. For it is the mind of the Catholic Church that each individual Church or Rite retains its traditions whole and entire, while adjusting its way of life to the various needs of time and place.[18]

Church is a communion within each Individual Church and at the same time is a communion of different Churches. Vatican II has spoken of communion under both these aspects, and there is no conflict between them. Moreover, they contribute to the reality of the one Church at the local and universal levels. The ecclesiological understanding among the theologians in India is stated clearly: “The existence of various Individual Churches in the Church is the best expression of the Church of Christ which keeps alive the tradition of authentic catholicity and communion”.[19] However to give practical expression to authentic catholicity and communion there is the need of recognizing the equality of Churches and their rights. The acceptance of an authentic communion ecclesiology can prepare the theological ground for better relations among Individual Churches, especially between the Latin Church and the Individual Churches of Oriental tradition. But that alone will be no solution. There is the need to develop a broadminded approach based on mutual charity in order to overcome self-interest and practice communion.

Communion means participation in a shared reality, something so prominent in the New Testament. St. John has expressed this clearly: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ” (1Jn 1:3). A vertical dimension and a horizontal dimension are characteristics of communion. The participation in the life of God makes Christians one with each other. The idea of communion is also intimately related to the Eucharist, in which the above-mentioned dimensions are concretely expressed. The Eucharist builds up the Body of Christ, the Church, which grows in a two-fold relationship i.e. with Christ and one another.[20] The New Testament shows the practical implications of communion:  (i). Those who are in communion participate in another’s joys and sorrows. (Heb.10:33; 2Cor.1:6-7)  (ii). There is mutual giving and receiving of spiritual and material goods, not only between individuals but also between communities on the basis of fellowship in Christ. (Rom. 15:26-27; 2Cor 8:1-15)

The New Testament does not have different norms for communion within a Church and communion between Churches. The diversity of Churches is like plurality of persons that constitute a society. Christian understanding attaches great importance to persons.  Different persons join together and build up Church. Every Church built in this way is a communion. The different Individual Churches form one communion, that is, one Church of Churches. The missiological perspective that emerges here is rooted in the individuality of Churches.

3.   Divine Tri-unity and Individual Identities

The paradigm of unity in diversity is most uniquely realized in the Holy Trinity, which for the Church is the original source and best exemplar for communion. In the Trinity there are three persons who make one unity. The individual identities of persons are not abolished for the sake of unity. In the Trinity it is relationships that make differences of persons and their unity. The Father is the unoriginated source from where the Son and the Spirit take their origin. Being from the Father they both have relation to the Father as well as to one another. Three persons sharing the same divinity are co-equals. In the Church, all Individual Churches have their origin from the one Church Christ himself founded. Having the same origin various Individual Churches must have brotherly/sisterly relations among them. By reason of their origin and existence they too are co-equals, just like the divine persons of the Holy Trinity are.

Differences of persons in God do not make divisions. Because they are held together by relationships there is unity and harmony in God. Equality and rights of persons are here recognized without causing friction or rivalry, domination or elimination. The Fathers of Church have used the Greek term perichoresis which indicates the co-existence of the divine persons in mutual love. Perichoresis found Latin translations as circumsessio (mutual indwelling) and circuminsessio (having the same meaning but understood as more dynamic). What is significant in the Triunity of persons in God is that the freedom and individuality of each divine person is not sacrificed for the sake of unity. Suppression of persons and their rights for the sake of unity results in tyranny.[21] Many totalitarian systems try to achieve unity in this way. The unity of Churches, we seek is communion in freedom, mutually recognizing sisterly/brotherly relationship. The identity of Individual Churches is not to be abandoned for the sake of communion. As every person of the Trinity fully possesses divinity, which is the essence of the Trinity, every Individual Church possesses the fullness of ecclesiality. The Individual Churches are not simply parts of the Universal Church. It is in and through them that the real Universal Church exists.[22] As the inner dynamism of the Trinity is love, both Individual Churches and Universal Church should be animated by love and should resist all temptations against it.

The Holy Trinity is no mere model, but the very source of the life of the Church. The value of ecclesial pluralism is rooted and founded in the Holy Trinity. A conscious recognition of the unity in the plurality of persons in God can help to promote authentic identity and rights of the Individual Churches, making it possible to live and witness to the one Gospel without mutual clash or conflict. In fact the growth of the Universal Church is possible only through the growth of the Individual Churches.[23] What the Churches need is positive and open inter-ecclesial relations after the manner of the inner dynamism of the Trinity. This Trinitarian love is not closed. It flows outwards to the world of humans, building communion of persons. Communion of Churches can be realized only through commitment to love, which has to be expressed in mutual support and cooperation. The mission of the Church is fulfilled to the extent it realizes communion to which all people are invited not merely by word but by life and example.

4. Ecclesial Pluralism and Mission

If mission belongs to the very essence of the Church, each Individual Church has this task. In the context of the diversity of Churches, which form one communion, every Church bears its missionary responsibility and has the right for evangelization. There are two aspects in the mission of a Church. The first is mission ad intra and the second is mission ad extra. As the New Testament shows these two aspects are intimately linked. Living the Gospel in one’s ecclesial context is primary to missionary witness. Every help provided to realize this is part of missio ad intra. It cannot be simply regarded as mere pastoral service.  This becomes in fact the basis for the missio ad extra of the Church, bringing the Gospel to those who do not yet know Christ. The fulfillment of the missionary task requires attention to both these aspects. In the context of ecclesial pluralism the question as to how this is to be done is a matter not practically settled.

           In the context of ecclesial pluralism within the Catholic Church in India there is much difficulty for missionary activity. The difference also lies in theological approaches of the Latin Church and the Oriental Churches. When the question is about mission policy and practice there is disagreement even as to the theological understanding of the nature of the Church. In the CBCI the Latin and Oriental views have been very often uncompromising. The Oriental Bishops of India have presented the following theological views, with their consequent bearings on pastoral and missionary issues.[24]

–          The Catholic Church is a communion of Individual Churches.

–          Individual Churches are equal in dignity.

–          Particular liturgy, discipline, spirituality and hierarchy are constituent elements of an individual Church.

–          Jurisdiction is a constituent element of ecclesial individuality.

–          Pastoral care and evangelization are ecclesial acts.

–          Unity in diversity is the richness of Catholic Church.

These theological views have resulted in some concrete moves. Following the plea made by Syro-Malabar Bishops there was the appointment of the Apostolic Visitator for the migrants and report was submitted to Rome. The statistical data about Syro-Malabar migrants outside Kerala showed the need of evangelizing the diaspora communities.[25] The need to establish parishes or even hierarchies wherever necessary is far from fulfilment. Multi-ritual practices ensuring cooperation among pastors belonging to different rites are called for in situations where mixed communities are present. But inter-ecclesial relations have not grown to the level of mutual recognition and cooperation.

The ecclesiology of the Latin Church also implies the concept of communion. But in practice it sees the Church as communion of particular Churches, not of Individual Churches as understood in oriental ecclesiology. One can find a number of well-written books on the theology of the Church which though speaking of communion as a key notion does not have  the idea of communion of Churches differentiated by liturgy, discipline, theology and spirituality.[26] According to the Latin tradition the emphasis goes to diocese which is a particular Church considered as a single territorial unit. The practical consequences of this ecclesiological approach for pastoral care and mission do not seem to agree with the Oriental perception. Without distinction of rite, language or caste, pastoral care, as the Latin Church argues, belongs to the obligation of the local ordinary.

In the opinion of the Latin Church, the right to do evangelization has been tied down to the concept of jurisdiction. Evangelization and pastoral care are to be carried out without multiplication of jurisdiction. The insistence of the Latin hierarchy in India on the principle of “one territory, one bishop, one jurisdiction” has been in direct opposition to equal rights of the Orientals to minister to their faithful and to evangelize. The rights of the Oriental Churches have been recognized by the Second Vatican Council. The decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches says: “They enjoy the same equal rights and are under the same obligations even with respect to preaching of the Gospel to the whole world under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff”.[27] Commentators on the documents of Second Vatican Council have pointed out that the Council has said this in reference to the situations of the Oriental Churches in India. According to J.M. Hoeck:

The real reason why the right to preach the Gospel, that is, the right to engage in the missionary activity, is especially mentioned among the rights and obligations of all the Individual Churches is to be traced to the situation in India, where the Malabar Church, which has a large surplus of priests, was until recently only permitted to convert people to the Latin rite.[28]


The demand for freedom in evangelization and pastoral care is not derived from a sort of ecclesial imperialism which certainly is a theologically repugnant idea. In fact imperialist attitudes surface in the policy of clinging to the concept of one Church, “one Bishop, one Jurisdiction”. In fact the idea of jurisdiction in the Latin Church is a residue of the Roman Empire which was divided into prefectures and provinces for the sake of political administration. Every part of the empire had its own authority, which was accountable to the supreme authority, namely the emperor. A long past secular paradigm is no more acceptable to a realist view of the Church which is not a politically centralized system. If Church is a communion of Churches, the respect that is due to the rights of every Individual Church demands the recognition of each other’s freedom. Pluralism, which is a reality in the society today, should be reflected also in the Church. A multi-jurisdiction is the consequence of admitting the rights of Individual Churches. As theologians in India have seen, it is the only alternative in a pluralistic and ecumenical situation like ours.[29]  The presence of two bishops in one place is possible in the circumstances envisaged under the provision of the Latin Code of Canon Law. G. R. Evans rightly points out that this provision is intended to allow respect for the ecclesial integrity of Churches of the Eastern Rite.[30] The pastoral and missionary duties that belong to the essence of being a Church necessitate the creation of structures, which may be parishes or dioceses or a hierarchy in places where there is a need.

5. Concerns and Hopes

            The pastoral ministry exists in the Church to carry out its threefold function, namely, teaching, sanctifying and leading the faithful. But the Syro-Malabar Church today is not in a position to exercise this ministry to its own  faithful who have migrated and settled in cities outiside Kerala. Surveys and statistical findings show that the Syro-Malabar Church has got thousands of faithful belonging to it, spread out in different cities in India and abroad.[31]  Because the Syro-Malabar Church has no jurisdiction beyond its present territorial demarcations, it is not able to offer pastoral care in its fullness to the people.  The members of the Syro-Malabar Church have either to depend on the Latin Church or remain satisfied with “chapliancy services” offered to them.  This is far from being the real pastoral care to which the faithful are entitled.  The right to spiritual goods is not simply to be assured in the Church in general, but in one’s own sui juris Church.   Canon Law makes it clear: “The Christian faithful have the right to worship God according to the prescriptions of their own sui juris Church and to follow their own form of spiritual life consonant with the doctrine of the Church”[32] The right of the faithful to worship in one’s own liturgical tradition and to live as a Christian in accordance with one’s ecclesial heritage is rooted in baptism by which a person is incorporated as a member in a specific sui iuris Church[33]  Canon Law prohibits any one to induce someone to change membership to another sui juris Church.[34]  No one is allowed to opt for another sui juris church validly.[35] The faithful have an obligation to know, retain and promote their own rite[36]

            Thousands of Syro-Malabar faithful today, due to circumstances are compelled to follow Latin rite and gradually become alienated from their own Church and its tradition.  These Syro-Malabar faithful, having lost their roots, have to be satisfied with certain nominal faith-practices. The obligation of the bishops to provide the necessary help to their faithful for worship and Christian life in the tradition of the sui juris Churches was stressed by Pope John Paul II in his Letter to the Catholic Bishops of India on 28th May 1987. The pastoral care of the people, as the work of evangelization, requires necessary structures.  Establishing separate parishes for the faithful, appointing separate episcopal vicars to take care of the faithful, creating dioceses etc are important for effective and stable pastoral care of the faithful.  Vatican II already envisaged this when it spoke of setting up of parishes and their own hierarchies wherever the spiritual good of the faithful requires it.[37]   According to Canon Law, it is the right and duty of the patriarch or major archbishop to collect information regarding those faithful of his Church living outside his territory, even through a visitor.  Once the report is discussed the Synod can propose to the Apostolic See measures which include the erection of a parish, an exarchy, or an eparchy.[38]

             The Major-Archiepiscopal Assembly of the Syro-Malabar Church has expressed one of its most important concerns: “Erection of parishes, dioceses outside Kerala and India are required for the Syro-Malabar Church so that effective pastoral care can be given to its faithful.  Moreover, the Syro-Malabar Church should have ‘All India Jurisdiction’ in order to do missionary work freely throughout the country.”[39] As every sui juris Church the Syro-Malabar Church has a heritage of its own.  If structures that are necessary for the protection and promotion of this heritage are absent, the life of the Church will be stiffled.  Pope John Paul II, in his allocution to the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, said: “I would be grateful if you would pay attention to the pastoral care of the Eastern faithful in the diaspora.  In this regard, it is necessary for every one, both Latin and Oriental, to grasp the sensitive implications of the situation, which is a real challenge for the survival of the Christian East and for a general reconsideration of its pastoral programmes.  Indeed, the pastors of the Latin Church are first of all invited to deepen their knowledge of the existence and heritage of the Eastern Catholic Churches and to encourage the faithful entrusted to their care to do the same.   Secondly they are called to promote and defend the right of the Eastern faithful to live and pray according to the tradition received from the fathers of their own Church”.[40]           Despite all these there is a continuing contradiction between theology and practice, between law and implementation. The highest body like the General Council of the Church, Vatican II has clear articulation on the matter. The authority of the supreme pastor has also called for a resolution of the problem. Yet the present situation is one of limitations but not without hope.[41] There is much writing of theologians and voice of leaders of the Syro-Malabar Church asking for the recognition of the legitimate rights. They speak of this “unjust, artificial and abnormal situation which must be rectified at earliest. The Church leaders who cry for justice in the society, should first of remove injustice from within the Church itself.”[42] But despite everything, the inter-ecclesial problems remain unresolved.[43] Recently in the Synod of Bishops Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil gave strong expression to this:

 Even though the right of every individual Church to preach the Gospel everywhere in the world under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff and the right of all the faithful of the Oriental Churches to have pastoral care by their own bishops and priests throughout the world are recognised by Vatican Council II and the two Codes of Canon Law, the Syro‑Malabar Church is neither given new mission territories in India, Africa, etc., nor the freedom to exercise her right to give pastoral care by her own bishops and priests to the hundreds of thousands of migrants in India, in the Gulf Countries, Europe and elsewhere, even 43 years after the conclusion of Vatican Council II. … The Church has not only to preach the Word of justice to the faithful, but they should be pastorally helped to live by it. It is more so when it concerns practising justice within the Church. Peace is disturbed when justice is not done, because peace is the fruit of justice. Justice will also build up communion. In the case of the Syro‑Malabar Church, this justice has been denied for many centuries. It is high time that this Synod reflected over this unjust situation within the Church and proposed lasting remedies[44]

6.   Making Ecclesial Pluralism Functional

The Indian Catholic Church is aware of the problems that are encountered in the context of ecclesial pluralism. Errol D’ Lima has observed: “In spite of Roman dictates followed by exhortations, and protestations, of unity by episcopal leaders it is difficult to discern genuine harmony in the function of the three Ritual Churches”.[45] The crucial issue in India, as has been already pointed out, is jurisdiction. The Latin Church’s insistence on “one territory, one bishop, one jurisdiction” is not acceptable to Oriental Churches which see in it a political concept of unity deriving from the Roman empire where power was centralized and all diversity remained suspect. Moreover it is a plain fact that in the context of present-day society both in India and the world in general, a rigid uniform ecclesiality is impractical. Societies everywhere is already pluralistic in religion, language and culture. The relevant thinking for fostering unity should recognize diversity as an indispensable factor.

Harmony and fellowship should be created not by eliminating diversity, but allowing diversity to exist and function. Bishops as the heads of the Churches should witness to the unity not by monarchical jurisdiction but through pastoral charity. Christian brotherhood should animate and guide the communities and their heads even though they belong to different individual Churches. “The universality of the Church,” says John Paul II, “involves in the one hand a most solid unity and on the other, a plurality and diversification which do not obstruct unity, but rather confer upon it the character of communion”.[46]

The ecclesiological thinking in the post-Vatican era shows that “a richly diverse unity-in-diversity in no way calls for a formal, institutional and administrative unity, nor a super-Church”.[47] The otherness of the other has been experienced in the past as “a threat”. So nations and states tried to eliminate “the other” whether they are mere ethnic groups or religious communities, and tried to impose homogeneity. Enmity and hatred of the other have created ethnic cleansing, war and genocide. Pluralism in religion was eliminated by aggressive strategies of the protagonists of respective religion. Religious wars were fought not only between adherents of different religions but also between different groups within the same religion. Plurality in that way has often become exclusive, trying to inflict a fatal blow on “the other”. But plurality need not necessarily be so. In the opinion of G.R. Evans, “Although there is a historical plurality on a system of exclusion, there is also a multiplicity which need not arouse opposition and can be experienced within communion and mutual recognition”.[48]

In the Church what make the scandal are not differences or pluriformity; it is aggressiveness and infighting that create scandal. Schillebeeckx says, “The scandal is not that there are differences but that these differences are used as an obstacle to communion”.[49] There is often the tendency to domination, which occurs in the Church as in political or social spheres. Though all individual Churches are equal, there is a sad situation when one of them puts on superiority and considers others as subordinates. It has happened in history that the Latin Church once claimed superiority on account of its rituals. The Clementine Instruction of 1595 on inter-ritual marriages said that a Latin husband or wife should not follow the rite of a Greek spouse, but a Greek wife should follow that of her Latin husband, children follow their father’s rite, unless the mother is a Latin.[50] In 1742 Pope Benedict XIV in the Bull Etsi Pastoralis established the principle that the Latin rite was in fact to be deemed superior.[51]

           Suppression or subordination of non-Latin traditions, even of local variations of the Latin tradition, has been a fact of history. Missionaries who came for evangelization succeeded in establishing the supremacy in imposing their form of Christianity over the Church of St. Thomas Christians in South India. Indian Church history bears the scars of this oppression of one Individual Church by another. The struggle for regaining independence and recapturing a lost heritage has featured the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, the Catholic part of St. Thomas Christians in India. To undo the wrongs of the past and to have the fraternal communion today, the Individual Churches have to recognize each other not as rival groups but as different and autonomous. Churches can achieve unity only by the recognition of the “otherness” of the “other”. If fears, anxieties, distrust and resentment characterize the inter-ecclesial scene, we have to ask the question, why so? Things that must be done in mutual understanding and charity are done with much argumentation and without good will. This seems to be the reason for the absence of harmony and peace among individual Churches. A lot of problems belong to practical and administrative matters rather than to theological understanding. However if theology succeeds in creating a genuine understanding of the Church, many of the inter-ecclesial problems will vanish.

The Second Vatican Council, as noted above, was directly concerned about the inter-ecclesial problems in India. The teachings of the Council with its emphasis on the dignity, rights and obligation of Individual Churches have not been put into implementation, as desired, even after forty-three years. One can see in India a very cautious move and slow progress in giving concrete shape to the vision of Vatican II concerning the Church. The right of the Oriental Churches in India to do evangelization in areas reserved to the Latin Church was affirmed by allotting to the Syro-Malabar Church mission territories, the first of which was the creation of the exarchate of Chanda in 1962. By 1977 seven mission dioceses were erected in North India and entrusted to the Syro-Malabar Church. However, the demand for the pastoral care of the immigrants belonging to the Syro-Malabar Church in different parts of India, especially in big cites, did not meet with proper response because the Latin Church had argued that extension of multiple jurisdiction is detrimental to the unity of the Church. When discussions among hierarchies in India seemed to be reaching no solution, Pope John Paul II set up a committee of Cardinals. In 1987 Pope John Paul II wrote a historic letter to all the Bishops of India. The rights of the Oriental Churches to do missionary work and the need to give pastoral care to the immigrants were the contents of the letter. The erection of the new Syro-Malabar eparchy of Kalyan was announced by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

However, the inter-ecclesial problems persist. Until the freedom and rights of all Individual Churches are properly recognized, these problems will continue to bother us. The vocation of the Church is to promote communion, which is possible only by accepting diversity. Hence, diversity or pluriformity should not be opposed in the name of unity. A policy of rigid uniformity and monopolization of rights will also do serious harm to the promotion of ecumenical relations.[52] The Statement of the Indian Theological Association says:

A Spirit-filled community is capable of breaking down barriers to communication and communion. The Latin and Oriental Churches in India, with all their diversities, should be seen as sources of enrichment rather than as causes of division. By the common sharing of riches, the members of different Churches will become a genuine community of love, capable of living and working together and thus fulfilling their common mission.[53]

In the Indian context where pluralism is the normal fabric of the society, the Church’s witness to unity in diversity through living communion is of great value. Protests and agitations in different parts of the nation are the result of the ignoring of some sections and groups, which also make up the nation. The Church’s way of unity while allowing diversity can certainly serve as the best model for nation building.


6. Mission in the Context


             After stating the mission of the Church to humanity the Second Vatican Council spoke of the need of scrutinizing and interpreting the signs of the times.[54] Looking into the social, political and religious situation in our world today the Church has to respond to the challenges of religious fanaticism and fundamentalism, consumerism and materialism, at the same time attend to the problems of injustice, inequality, exploitation and oppression. Over and above these challenges, mission theology today emphasizes the task of dialogue with religions and cultures, and the need of working for the promotion peace and harmony which is considered as belonging to the very core of the ecclesial mission.

            The identity of the Syro-Malabar Church carries a heritage which is the result of living the Gospel in the context. The history of this Church is a missiological source for the present.  The Oriental Churches in general are esteemed for their concern for the context. Their identity is shaped by contextual concerns. Pope John Paul II has said: “one of the great values embodied particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to peoples and their cultures, so that the Word and his praise may resound in every language”[55] The Syro-Malabar way of living the Gospel in the Indian context reveals a lived theology of dialogue with religions and culture it encountered. Living in the midst of a pluralistic religious milieu it developed a way of mission approach which is specifically its own and which differs from that of West.[56] There was never any aggressive missionary strategy or a crusade of conversion in its history. Harmony with people of all religions and positive approach to local culture incorporating customs and practices into ecclesial life feature the Syro-Malabar Church’s long period of existence in India. If mission aims at not merely the realization of ecclesial fellowship but unity of all members of the human family[57] it has to be realized by building relationships through dialogue with  adherents of all religions and ideologies.

          Today there are questions that go beyond the Individual Churches and their given identities. No serious theological reflection on the Church can bypass them. In fact, they must be addressed by all Churches. The Kingdom of God offers the basic perspective for the ecclesial mission. The good news of the kingdom is at the center of Jesus’ proclamation and this has to be the overriding concern of all Churches. Seen in the perspective of the Kingdom of God, the Church is a provisional reality, and this underlines the idea of the Church as means and not an end. The historical and eschatological nature of the Church also points to the same understanding. It is not possible to stop at any given form of the Church in history because the Church is always in via. This shows that the given identities of the Church are ephemeral and can never be idolized. Christians worship God in Jesus Christ, but not Church, however admirable may be its form and shape. The individual identity of the Church cannot remain closed, obliterating the goal to which all historical ecclesial forms are only means. The Church certainly stands with its roots in the past. But it has to live in the present and move towards future. Therefore no given ecclesial identities should be considered ultimate. At the same time no Church can do away with its identity because loss of Church’s identity would mean the loss of the Church itself.

            The task of the Church placed in the perspective of God’s Kingdom calls for critical evaluation of the socio-economic and cultural changes taking place in the world today. This process is largely the result of the phenomenon of globalization, which affects not just individuals or groups but peoples and cultures in a massive way. The most powerful factor behind today’s globalization is market which is supported by media. The impact of all these is that our culture and the values it stood for are eroded by powerful currents which are beyond control. At the top of the listing of megatrends in our world comes the following: i. Megamergers and concentration of wealth. ii. Global economy under megaplayers.  iii. Economic ideology of money-theism. The consequences of these are individualism, consumerism and increasing marginalization of the poor.

              The process of globalisation is linked to science and technology. John Naisbitt says:“Intoxicated by technology’s seductive pleasures and promise, we turn our backs to technology’s consequences…Technology marches to the beat of our economy, while we left to plug in, get on line, motor on, take off, and ultimately pick up the pieces. We feel that something is not quite right but we can’t put our fingers on it. The Intoxicated Zone is spiritually empty, dissatisfying and dangerous and impossible to climb out of unless we recognize we are in it”[58] The Post-Synodal document on the Church in Asia speaks rather deploringly about our contemporary situation: “In the process of development, materialism and secularism are also gaining ground, especially in urban areas. These ideologies, which undermine traditional, social and religious values, threaten Asia’s cultures with incalculable damage. These changes have both positive and negative aspects. There is also accompanying phenomenon of urbanization often associated with the rise of organized crime, terrorism, prostitution and the exploitation of the weaker sectors of the society”.[59] Speaking about challenges to Churches in Asia, Anthony Rogers says: “In the context of the emerging mega trends in the beginning of the twenty-first century the church is being challenged to respond in new and creative ways to make the Gospel of Jesus relevant to people of today”.[60]


            What then should be the understanding of identity with which the Churches’ existence is interwoven? The identity of a Church has to be understood not in a static way, but in a dynamic way. Viewed in this way, any ecclesial identity is in a continuous process of change and growth which has an organic character in the sense that it is in constant link with the past when it interacts with the present. The question of tradition comes in here. Tradition should remain open to change and growth. It can never mean preservation or perpetuation of the past. As the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Orientale Lumen, says, “Tradition is not pure nostalgia for things or forms past, nor regret for lost privileges, but the living memory of the Bride, kept eternally youthful by the Love that dwells within her”.[61] The Church lives in history and responds to every epoch in accordance with the promptings of the Spirit.


            The continuous process through which ecclesial identity passes should be characterized by dialogue and inculturation. The context in which the Gospel is lived has a definite say in shaping the Church in every historical moment. The Churches living in the context of India and Asia have the duty to enter into a deep relationship with the poor and the suffering. Solidarity is a key-word that should mark the mode of being the Church. Arising from an ecclesiology of wider communion, commitment to the liberation of all enslaved ones of the society would feature the daily life of the Church. The work of evangelization has to be concerned about poverty, deprivation and dehumanization caused by injustice and domination, exploitation and oppression. The good news of the Kingdom cannot find tangible expression except through the removal of all dehumanizing forces. Solidarity with the poor is the way for Churches in India and other Asian countries to live and announce the Gospel of Jesus.

           To work for the poor and the marginalized needs the collaboration of all peoples. Dialogue with all religions and ideologies is another aspect of Church’s commitment to the Gospel. Dialogue involves more than intellectual concern or academic discussions. All religions and ideologies profess and aim at human well-being and the creation of a better world. The mission of the Church cannot exclude cooperation with them. Today inculturation is a leading idea in mission studies. Inculturation includes both solidarity and dialogue. It tells something that is related to the very being of the Church, which has been inserted into and shaped by every cultural context. Inculturation should not be considered a programme to adopt the elitist culture of the society. Society is multi-layered and complex. In the Indian society the Dalits and the Tribals are sections of people to whom no proper attention has been given. The subaltern groups and their cultures should figure in the being and becoming of the Church. The concern for contextually relevant ecclesial identities in India or abroad should be the result of an incarnational involvement in the lives of peoples. This would demand also an understanding of ecclesial identity which is open and dynamic.

          The Syro-Malabar Church is today a world-wide reality. Therefore it has not got just one context, but several contexts. The Syro-Malabar Church today functions at local, national and global levels. There is ecclesial life to be lived by St Thomas Christians not only in their original homeland, but also in different Indian cities and states or countries abroad belonging to different geographical zones. This makes it necessary that attention is given to a wide variety of contexts.  Pope John Paul II underlined the relevance of the heritage of Oriental Churches: “At a time when it is increasingly recognized that the right of every people to express themselves according to their own heritage of culture and thought is fundamental, the experience of the Individual Churches of the East is offered to us as an authoritative example of successful inculturation. From this model we learn that if we wish to avoid the recurrence of particularism as well as of exaggerated nationalism, we must realize that the proclamation of the Gospel should be deeply rooted in what is distinctive to each culture and open to convergence in a universality, which involves an exchange for the sake of mutual enrichment.”[62] The paradigm for ecclesial mission provided by Oriental Churches in general is an invitation to look into the heritage of each Individual Church. The study of the heritage the Syro-Malabar Church can bring out a methodology, a way of being for the Church, if not ready solutions for the fulfillment of the ecclesial mission today.

                                                                                                Fr George Karakunnel,

                                                                                                           St Joseph Pontifical Seminary,



[1] LG 1.

[2] Cf Bp Gregory Karotemprel, The Syro-Malabar Church Today (Rajkot Deepthi Publications 2008),p.8. Cf.  also Ronald G. Roberson  CSP,  The Eastern Christian Churches: A Brief Survey, Revised third edition, (Roma: Pontificium Institutum Studiorum Orientalium, 1990).

[3] The  post-synodal document, Ecclesia in Asia ( nos 22, 27) shows its esteem for the diversity of Churches.

[4] LG 27, AG 22, CD 11, 23, 28, 36.

[5] A G 22

[6]OE 2, 3, 4, 10, 16, 19.

[7] AG 19, 27; LG 27

[8] UR 14

[9], LG, 23. Cf also Decree on Oriental Churches, OE 1,2

[10] Abp Joseph Powathil, “The Missionary Role of the Syro-Malabar Church”, Mission in India Today, the Task of   St Thomas Christians ed. K. Pathil, (Bangalore, Dharmaram Publications 1988), p.5.

[11] Cf.OE, 3

[12] Prof. Borys Guziak, “ Sulla Questione dell’ Identita delle Chiese Orientali Cattoloche: Identita Cme Categoria Teologica e sua Definizione” L’Identita delle Chiese Orientali Cattoliche, published by Congregazione per le Chiese Orientali (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1997), p.71ff

[13] Cf. Bosco Puthur, “Ecclesial Vision and Mission of the Syro-Malabar Church”,  Syro-Malabar Theology in the Context, ed. by Mathew Manakatt and Jose Puthenveettil (Vadavathoor, Kottayam Paurastya Vidyapitham 2007), p.236ff. Bp Gregory Karotemprel, The Syro-Malabar Church Today , p.773

[14] Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3

[15] CIC 111, 1; 112, 1-2.

[16] “The Issue of  ‘Rites’  in the Indian Church”, Theologizing in Context, Statements of the Indian Theological association, ed. by Jacob Parappally MSFS, (Bangalore Dharmaram Publications 2002), p. 203.

[17] Abp Andrews Thazhath, St Thomas Missionary Heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-MalabarChurch, ed. by Pauly Kannookadan, (Mount St Thomas, Kochi LRC Publications 2008), p. 17f.

[18]  Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2

[19]  Indian Theological Association, “Statement of the Annual Meeting on the Issue of ‘Rites’ in the Indian Church”, (Bangalore, 1993), no. 12.

[20] R. Schnackenburg, Church in the New Testament (London: Burns & Oates, 1974), 165ff.

[21] Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, (New York: Cross Road Publishing Company, 1991), p.291.

[22] Jacob Parappally MSFS, “Communion  among the Individual Churches” Vidyajyothi 59 (1995),


[23] The Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Major ArchiepiscopalChurch  (Mount St Thomas, Kakkanad, Kochi 2006), no. 5.6

[24] S.Arulsamy and S. Singaroyan, Guide to the CBCI- CCBI Documents (New Delhi: CBCI Secretariat, 2000), p. 215.

[25] Bp Gregory Karotemprel has described the present situation of  Syro-Malabar migrants in his study, “The Pastoral Care of Syro-Malabar Migrants” in The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church, ed. by Pauly Kannookadan (Mount St Thomas, Kochi 2008), pp. 212ff.

[26] One may refer for example to the following works: J.M.R. Tillard, The Church of Churches: the Ecclesiology of Communion (Minnesota, The Liturgical Press 1992); M.M. Ganjo-Guembe, Communion of Saints: Foundation, Nature and Structure of the Church (Minnesota, The Liturgical Press 1994).

[27] Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3

[28] Johannes M. Hoeck, “Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches” Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, Vol. I, ed. by H. Vorgrimler (London: Burns and Oates, 1966), p. 315.

[29] Kuncheria  Pathil, Indian Church at the Cossroads, (Rome: Centre for Indian and Interreligious Studies & Bangalore: Dharmaram Publications, 1994), 94.

[30] G.R Evans, The Church and the Churches (Cambridge University Press, 1994), 80.

[31]  Bp Gregory Karotemprel gives the data of  Syro-Malabar migrants in India and abroad. See “Pastoral Care of the Syro-Malabar Migrants”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church, pp. 213-215.

[32] CCEO, 17; CIC, 214.

[33] CCEO, 29,CIC, 111

[34] CCEO, 31; cf also 1465.

[35] CCEO, 32, CIC, 112

[36] CCEO, 39-41.

[37] CD,23; OE, 4

[38]CCEO, 148.

[39] Statement of the Major Archiepiscopal Assembly on 12 November 1998.

[40] L’Osservatore Romano, Weekly Eng. Ed. N.42, 21 October 1998, p.7.

[41] Abp Joseph Powathil, “Missionary Activities of the Syro Malabar Church in the Present Context”, The Mission Theology of the Syro-Malabar Church,  pp.176, 177.

[42] Kuncheria Pathil, Indian Churches at Crossroads (Rome, Centre for Indian and Interreligious Studies & Bangalore, Dharmaram Publications 1994), p. 89.

[43] Cf. The Mission Policy of the Syro-Malabar Major ArchiepiscopalChurch, ( Mount St Thomas, Kakkanad, Kochi 2006), No 5.4

[44] “Summary of Synod of Bishops” Vatican Information Service, 0810(520), 15-16 October 2008.

[45] Errol D’ Lima, “Ritual Reality in the Indian Church”, The Church in India in Search of a New Identity, ed. by  K. Kunnumpuram et al. (Bangalore: NBCLC, 1997), p.193.

[46] John Paul II, “Address”, General Audience 27 Sept 1989, Insegnamenti di Gioanni Paulo II (Rome: 1989), p.679.

[47]        E. Schillebeeckx, Church: the Human Story of God (London: SCM Press, 1989), p.197.

[48] G. R. Evans, The Church and Churches, p.176.

[49] E. Schillebeeckx, Church: the Human Story of God, p.176.

[50]   Pope Clement VIII,  “Instructio super ritibus Italo-Graecorum”, Bullarium Diplomatum et Privilegiorum Sanctorum Romanorum Pontificium, Tomus X, cxii (Augustae Taurinorum, MDCCCLXV), p.211.

[51]   Hubert Jedin,  History of the Church, vol. VI, (London: Burns & Oates, 1981), p. 227.

[52] Cyril Mar Baselios, “Evangelization and Pastoral Care: Some Concerns of the Malankara Catholic Church”, Christian Orient 3 (1982), pp.30-31.

[53]   Indian Theological Association, “Statement of the Annual Meeting 1996”, no. 34, The Church in India in Search of a New Identity, p.397.

[54] The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, 3, 4.

[55] Orientale Lumen, 7

[56] George Karakunnel, “The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ in Indian Theological Reflection”, Cristologia e Missione Oggi, ed. by  G. Colzani et alii (Roma, Urbaniana University Press 2001), p.112ff.

[57] Cf. Lumen Gentium, 1.

[58] John Naisabitt, High Touch High Tech (New York Broad way Books 2000).

[59] Ecclesia in Asia, 7.

[60]  Anthony Rogers FSC, “The Challenges in Asia”, Christian Conference of Asia  FABC No 102, p.38

[61]  Orientale Lumen, 8.

[62]  Orientale Lumen, 7.