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The Catechists Department publishes 12 textbooks for each year of Moral Science education. While not obviously Christian, the texts are consonant with Christian moral thought. In addition, Father Jacob claims that all Syro-Malabar Catholic children at-tend a two-hour Sunday school: “They could not advance in life without it!” he exclaims.

While on the one hand conservative and steeped in 2,000 years of liturgical tradition, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is also youthful and dynamic, with a charismatic side more reminiscent of the Pentecostal movement in the United States. A center of this movement is the Divine Retreat Center in Muringoor. Run by the Vincentian Fathers, it has space for over 6,000 guests.

“Many miracles are taking place here,” says Father George Panackal, Director, who stresses that up to 50 percent of the pilgrims who visit the center are sick and hoping for a miraculous cure.

The vast halls of the Divine Retreat Center are often filled to capacity, and offer charismatic preaching in several languages. Courses last for a week at a time and run year-round. There are several such Divine Retreat Centers in southern India; they represent one of the most astonishingly dynamic sides of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

Father Jose Puthiedath, Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly, explains this trend toward charismatic preaching by admitting that the Syro-Malabars are, in some ways, copying the style of the Pentecostals, who are “very successful now in India. The Pentecostal style is more charismatic and has much community spirit – they love spontaneous prayer and their spirituality is extremely active and genuine.”

There is no doubt the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is more than holding its own in the enigmatic land of India. The secret of its success must be its ability to adapt to the changing times. Through education the church provides moral stability. Through the love and devotion of its many workers the church provides comfort, relief from poverty and social improvement. To its 3.5 million faithful the church is a spiritual anchor in an ever-changing world.

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Sean Sprague is a frequent contributor to these pages.

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Tags: India Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Church history Vocations (religious)