18 August 2016
The Rev. Francis Eluvathingal ministers to Syro-Malabar Catholic migrants in Mumbai. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Many of the heroes we have met over the years have possessed a missionary zeal — and that is surely true of the Rev. Francis Eluvathingal. Father Eluvathingal is a Syro-Malabar priest whom we met while he was ministering to the Thomas Christians in Mumbai, many of whom have moved there from Kerala. Since 2015, he’s been the “coordinator general for the Syro-Malabar Migrant Faithful in India Outside the Proper Territory” — in short, he helps migrants stay connected to their faith.
When we caught up with him four years ago, he was a man very much on the move:
Rushing to a wedding ceremony outside the city, the priest jumps into the driver’s seat of his hatchback. He swiftly attaches his phone to the center console, fits the accompanying headset in his ears and backs the car out of the narrow driveway of the bishop’s rectory.
…The priest inserts a cassette tape of devotional hymns into the car’s stereo and waits for an opening. He spots one, slams his foot on the accelerator and speeds into the melee. Once on the road, he races through the traffic, passing another driver one moment, only to slam on the brakes at a sudden standstill the next.
“I’m a fast driver,” says the priest. “There are many things to do and very little time to drive.”
The priest’s dynamism mirrors that of his flock, most of whom have ties to the southwest state of Kerala. They or their parents migrated north to Mumbai, where the majority now prospers…
…“Keralites who migrated to Mumbai had very deep faith,” says Father Eluvathingal. “Once they came here and found jobs — on the railways, in government or in banking — and were happy in terms of their stomach, with bread on the table, they immediately began searching to satisfy their spiritual needs.”
Without a church of their own, the first Thomas Christian migrants joined one of the many local Latin Catholic parishes. Since the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries settled in Mumbai and the neighboring state of Goa, the Latin Catholic Church has been the predominant church in the region.
… “In Kerala, the church is very strong. It has a political voice and strong influence on society,” Father Eluvathingal continues. “But Christian life in Mumbai is different because we’re very much a minority. We’re not even one percent of the population. The voice of our leaders is not heard or respected. At the same time, we have a very strong sense of Christian identity here because there’s a greater sense of unity and belonging. Our faith has a religious role, but also a social role.”
“I am a very happy priest,” he told us in a video interview several years ago. “The faith and the tradition we live is really rich.” He also has a blog and tries to minister to his growing flock online.
“Whatever time I spare from my vocational duties, I take to the internet and try to be active there. People feel helped, feel that the church is here to give solace to them and listen to their problems. And they find God’s hand in all their problems, in his providence. That kind of spiritual satisfaction has been a great joy for me.”
That joy helps to define a true CNEWA hero: one who gives to others with a generous heart and buoyant spirit, full of love for others and love for the Lord.
Watch an interview with him below.
Tags: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Migrants Priests