Bathery: A Highly Charged Diocese

by the Rev. Varghese Mattamana

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In the 1970s, in search of a better tomorrow, central and southern Kerala’s SyroMalankara Catholics uprooted themselves and pitched their tents in the western mountains, foothills and plains of northern Kerala and the neighboring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

These pioneers fought wild animals, inclement weather and communicable diseases. Their settlements lacked facilities for such basic amenities as churches, schools, medical centers and marketplaces. To worship, study, treat an illness, shop or work, they had to trudge through miles of dirt tracks, fields and forests. They were a people deprived of the infrastructure necessary to uplift themselves culturally, economically, intellectually, socially and spiritually.

These early struggles took a heavy toll. Some survived and prospered; others remained on the fringe, farming small plots of land and peddling minor wares; still others failed. Nevertheless, these Syro-Malankara Catholics had an indomitable spirit, a yen for hard work and hope.

The spiritual and pastoral needs of this diaspora were initially met by the Diocese of Tiruvalla in central Kerala. The late Zacharias Mar Athanasios, Bishop of Tiruvalla, sent zealous priests to minister to the people and to organize church centers.

The church grew in strength and number and the dream of the people to have an ecclesial center of their own and a shepherd to lead them began to take shape. This dream was realized when the Holy See erected the Diocese of Bathery in October 1978 and consecrated Cyril Mar Baselios as its first bishop later that year.

The vast territory of the new diocese presented unlimited challenges. Diocesan leaders sought to understand the needs and expectations of the people through regular meetings and frequent socioeconomic surveys. This holistic approach embraced the ecclesial, sociopsychological, economic, political and educational spheres. These thrusts stimulated the fledgling diocese, generating a vigorous church.

To meet its pastoral needs, however, the diocese needed personnel and therefore opened a minor seminary. Vocations to the priesthood and religious life were actively encouraged. Today, Geevarghese Mar Divannasios, who replaced Cyril Mar Baselios in February after the latter was appointed the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum, takes a keen interest in the educational and spiritual life of the 45 seminarians enrolled in St. Mary’s Seminary in Trivandrum, of which he was once Rector.

In order to build on the pastoral and social dimensions of the parish, emphasis was laid on faith formation, which is continuous and Christocentric.

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Tags: India Syro-Malankara Catholic Church Multiculturalism