25 years had passed since the historic letter of Blessed Pope John Paul II, to the Bishops of India regarding the issues related to the Communion of Rites and Pastoral care to the migrants of Oriental Churches. This was a major event happened in favour of the Syro-Malabar bishops who raised their voice for the equal rights for all Rites and the freedom for the pastoral care of the migrants. This was at a time when we were raising voice for the diocese at Bombay-Pune region. Soon after this letter, the Holy See created the diocese of Kallyan. Years had passed and many more dioceses in North, including the recent one of Faridabad had been created. Even then, this is of much importance, since we are unable to provide pastoral care to the migrants in many of the regions of the world, due to the lack of support from the Latin Bishops and also we have a number of faithful in many regions so as to obtain new diocese. Let us go through this historic letter...
To my venerable brothers, The bishops of India
As you are aware, for sometime a study has been going on with regard to the inter-ritual questions which have arisen in India, in recent years. On the occasion of my visit to your country, the happy memory of which still remains deeply engraved in my mind and heart, I spoke to all of you assembled in New Delhi about this matter and assured you of the Holy See’s desire to be of assistance to you in this regard. I mentioned that the final stage of this study would be carried out as soon as possible and that I myself would do possible to ensure a just and fair settlement of the issues, one that would take into account all the pastoral exigencies of unity and truth.
To this end I appointed a Pontifical Commission under the presidency of the Cardinal Secretary of State, composed of the Cardinal prefects of the two Roman Congregations directly concerned in the matter, the Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in India, Archbishops representing the three Rites in India and others. This commission met more than once in order to exchange, in an atmosphere of frank and fraternal dialogue, various viewpoints concerning issues which have been brought forward both in the inter-ritual meetings that had taken place in India and in correspondence sent to the Holy See. These meetings were characterized by a desire on the part of all to arrive at a just and fair pastoral response to the various issues in question, but such as also to take into account the various elements and dimensions historical, theological and canonical which are inseparable from any truly pastoral policy that respects the manifold ways in which God’s plan becomes realized through history. In this study, the wealth of the Conciliar teachings was given an eminent place, particularly those documents which bear directly on the issues that were discussed, namely the Decree Christus Dominus on the pastoral office of Bishops in the church, and the Decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum on the Catholic Eastern Churches.
Since very ancient times a considerable community of Christians, known as the St. Thomas Christians has existed in southern India. Indeed there is a very strong tradition that the St. Thomas, the Apostle himself visited and labored in India, both in the extreme south and in what is known today as the Madras Mylapore area. There is even a tomb in Mylapore, which is venerated as his resting place. Later on, at various times, the church in India was strengthened by other groups of Christians from the middle east who became assimilated into the church already there.
The coming of Latin missionaries can be traced back to at least the thirteenth century. With their arrival in the present area of Calicut, the missionary activity of the church began to extend. The centre of this activity was first located at Cochin, and then at Goa, and from there it spread throughout the region, and into areas which today are independent neighboring countries. In this process of Evangelization, there has always existed a generous collaboration on the part of priests, religious and laity baptized in the Syro Malabar Rite, and in the recent years also on the part of Syro-Malabar church itself in certain areas of the North. This collaboration should not be forgotten, for it points to a willingness, on the part of all concerned, to accept the age-old adage: “salus animarum suprema lex”
Since the celebration of the Second Vatican council, the Catholic Eastern Churches have manifested an ever greater desire to undertake, whenever possible, the pastoral care of the Eastern Rite faithful in accordance with their ecclesial traditions and heritage. In India this desire has intensified in the recent years in the face of the ever increasing phenomenon of the migration of Eastern Rite Catholics to areas covered by Latin Rite dioceses in the northern part of the country, such that at times they form a considerable number of the faithful of these ecclesiastical territories, as for example in the area of Bombay-Pune.
The Second Vatican council, in speaking of the pastoral duties of Bishops, declared that where there are faithful of a different Rite, the diocesan bishop should provide for their spiritual needs, either through the priests and parishes of that Rite, or through an Episcopal Vicar endowed with the necessary faculties. Moreover, wherever it would be fitting, the latter could also have Episcopal rank (cf. Christus Dominus, 23,3). The same document went on to say that if, on account of some special circumstances, none of these alternatives was practicable, a special hierarchy could be established for each different Rite, should the Apostolic see judge this to be opportune (ibid).
The last provision – to be employed where circumstances should so warrant was enlarged upon in the Conciliar document on the Catholic Eastern Churches. There we read: “Attention should everywhere be given to the preservation and growth of each individual church. For this purpose, parishes and a special hierarchy should be established for each where the spiritual good of the faithful so demands…All Eastern Rite members should know and be convinced that they can and should always preserve their lawful liturgical rites and their established way of life” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 4 & 6)
This need to be faithful to the traditions and heritage of one’s own Rite can in no way be considered as interfering with the task of the church to “gather into one all the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn.11:52), or with the mission of the church to bring about the communion of all persons with the Redeemer. For as the same Decree rightly remarks:
“That Church, Holy and Catholic, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made 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, there flourishes such an admirable brotherhood that this variety within the church in no way harms her unity, but rather manifests it” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 2).
In fidelity then to the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and in view of the present circumstances prevailing in the Indian context, after having closely examined all the documents which has been presented to the Holy See, as well as the results of the meeting of the Pontifical Commission appointed at my direction to study the inter-ritual problems existing in India, by virtue of my Office as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church I wish to state the following:
a) The Bishops of each of the three Rites have the right to establish their own Episcopal bodies in accordance with their own ecclesiastical legislation. The national Conference of all the Catholic Bishops of India is to continue for questions of common concern and of a national and supra-ritual character, e.g. Doctrine and Morals, Organizations of a national and supra-ritual character, questions involving the Catholic Church and the Government etc. These areas are to be determined in the National Conference’s new statutes, to be approved by the Holy See (cf. Christus Dominus,38; Code of Canon Law, Canons 449 ff).
b) As the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches points out, all the Churches under the pastoral governance of the Roman Pontiff have the same rights and obligations, including what concerns the preaching of the Gospel, always under the guidance of the Roman Pontiff (Orientalium Ecclesiarum, 3). It will be the task of the Catholic Bishops of India, if necessary through a special commission of the National Conference referred to above, to organize and coordinate the missionary activity in the country, in such a way as to promote an evangelization that will be truly effective and yet avoid all danger of confusion and any spirit of rivalry.
c) Regarding the pastoral care of the faithful of the Eastern Rites who are living in Latin Rite dioceses, in accordance with the spirit and letter of the Conciliar Decrees Christus Dominus 23,3 and Orientalium Ecclesiarum 4, the Latin Ordinaries of such dioceses are to provide as soon as possible for an adequate pastoral care of the faithful of these Eastern Rites, through the ministry of the priests, or through parishes of the Rite, where this would be indicated, or through an Episcopal Vicar endowed with the necessary faculties, where circumstances would so indicate( cf. Christus Dominus,23,3; Code of Canon Law, Canons 283, #2; 476; 518). This latter may even have Episcopal rank should this be determined as fitting (Christus Dominus,23,3). Where circumstances would so indicate, the Apostolic See will establish a proper hierarchy for such faithful. This would be done through two Roman Congregations responsible for the affairs of the Eastern and Latin Rites, and after consultations with the Latin Bishops involved. Given the number of the Catholics Syro-Malabar Rite in the Bombay-Pune region of India, the situation presently existing there can be considered mature enough for the establishment now of an Eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Rite. Hence I am authorizing the Congregation for the Eastern Churches to proceed accordingly.
My dear Brothers in the Episcopate, let us continue to reflect on the marvelous mystery of the Universal Church and all the Churches or Rites which make up her variety in unity. May the centre of all your pastoral solicitude be the Church’s unity and communion. For in this we recognize the greatest of blessings, the desire of the heart of Jesus, the expression fidelity to the Lord, the sign of credibility of his Church and of the very mission of the Christ.
As you know, the Second Vatican Council emphasized the Church’s vocation to be a sign of the unity of mankind, so often divided by ethnic, political, cultural and linguistic rivalries, and thus oppressed by all sorts of tensions. This vocation brings with it the need for reconciliation where unity has been impaired or damaged. Hence there is a need for the closest possible communion and collaboration between the different Rites in the beloved country.
In stating the above after much prayers and reflection, I have every confidence that it will be given the full support of all the Bishops of the country, and that you will do everything possible to educate and form your priests, religious and faithful to accept and cooperate fully in its implementation.
In conclusion, I once again commend you and your ministry to the loving care of Mary the Mother of Church, and I pray that she will sustain you all in joy until the day of Christ Jesus
From the Vatican, 28 May 1987
Joannes Paulus II