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Friday, August 31, 2012

The Crown of Nazrani Church!

Mar Joseph Powathil, Archbishop Emeritus of Changanacherry, Syro-Malabar Church, India needs no introduction in a scholar group of oriental Catholics. Being elevated to Bishop rank, even before completing 10 years as a priest, he had served his mother church and the society for a long 40 years as a bishop. He had celebrated his Ruby Jubilee of Consecration and Silver Jubilee of Priestly Ordination in 2012. For all these years, he had lived for the church and with the church. The man who preaches after a thorough study, The man whose actions are always in line in with his preachings, The man who committed not even a single mistake in his words, The man who believes what he said is cent percent correct. It is Mar Joseph Powathil, The First Syro Malabar bishop consecrated by a Pope, The bishop who raised his voice for the equal status of all the individual churches, The bishop who argued for restoring the lost identity and traditions of his mother church, The bishop who came forward for Ecumenism and Inter Religious co-operation, The bishop who had the courage to lead the church and protect its rights and faith....This is a tribute to this great Archbishop

A short profile of the ministry in truth and charity*

Archbishop Joseph Powathil was born in the quiet hamlet of Kurumbanadom, near Chanaganacherry, Travancore. He was dearly known as Pappachan in his childhood, and he officially goes by the name of P. J. Joseph. He went to school at Holy Family LP School and St. Peter’s UP School, which were both in his home village, and the St. Berchmans’ High School in Changanassery. An economics graduate of St.Berchmans College, Changanassery and Loyola College, Madras, he went on to receive his post graduate diploma in economics from Oxford University in 1969.

Mar Joseph did his seminary studies in St. Thomas Seminary Changanassery and Papal Seminary Pune. He was ordained priest on October 3, 1962. Just after his ordination Joseph Powathil was appointed lecturer in economics at St. Berchmans’ College, the same college where he had his graduation studies. Though his later years were full of Episcopal responsibilities it is an irony that Father Joseph had very little pastoral experience as a priest. The authorities thought the other way, to utilize his leadership qualities and organizing abilities, besides his experience as a teacher and mentor, in the making of a prelate.

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Changanassery (Titular Bishop of Caesarea Philippi) on January 29, 1972 and was ordained bishop by Pope Paul VI on February 13, 1972. On February 26, 1977 a new diocese was created under the name Kanjirappally bifurcating Changanassery archdiocese. Bishop Powathil was transferred to there as the first bishop. He served the new diocese for nine years. He rose to become archbishop and returned to Changanassery on November 16, 1985 succeeding Mar Antony Padiyara.
As the archbishop of Changanassery Mar Powathil pushed assiduously for the restoration of East Syrian traditions in the Syro-Malabar Church. He fought vigorously for the complete revival of the Divine Liturgy that was Latinised after the Synod of Diamper, although it was partially revived after Vatican II. However, these efforts got him several critics even among his fellow bishops, alleging that what he espoused amounted to adoption of Chaldean Christian and Orthodox Christian practices. This was apparent during his race as a candidate in the election of president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India in 1994.

Though most of the Latin Catholic bishops from all over India supported his candidature, he had to overcome a very strong opposition from a group within his own church. Despite this severe setback, he went on to win the election. As the president of C.B.C.I. Mar Powathil voice became heard throughout India and his work began to win accolades and respect even from other religious leaders. In 1996, as a poetic justice, he was unanimously asked to further serve the C.B.C.I. for another term. Archbishop Powathil was also chairman of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (K.C.B.C.) from 1993 to 1996.

He served as President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) (1994–1998), Chairman of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (1993–1996), and Chairman of Education Commission of the CBCI. He is at present a member of the Post Asian Synodal Council in Rome, Italy (since 1998), Chairman of KCBC Commission for Education (since 1986), Founder and Chairman of Inter Church Council for Education, Chairman of Inter Religious Fellowship, member of the Pro Oriente Foundation at Vienna, Austria (since 1993) and member of the Scientific Commission of International Publication ‘Oasis’ from Venice, Italy.
Realizing the importance of the Youth Apostolate he took the initiative in establishing a Diocesan Youth Movement called ‘Yuva Deepthi’ in 1972. In course of time it spread to all the dioceses in Kerala leading to the formation of Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM) and he was the first chairman of the KCBC Youth Commission. He started Apostolate for the senior citizens, apostolate for the emigrants and apostolate for the tourists in the Archdiocese. CANA, the Indian Section of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, at Thuruthy with head quarters in Rome is another achievement of him.

He did a great deal to promote formation based on his Syro-Malabar identity, to priests, religious and the laity. Oriental Study Forum, Dukrana - periodical, Christian Orient - periodical, Missionary Orientation Centre (MOC, recognized by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome), Amala Theological College for the novices, Mar Thoma Vidya Nikethan for Laity (Master Degree in Religious Sciences: recognized by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome) etc. are the means used for the same. He also founded an Eastern Monastic Congregation – Sisters of St. Thomas

On January 22, 2007, Monday, the resignation of Archbishop Joseph Powathil, in conformity with Canon 210 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, was made public by the Holy See and on the same day, it was announced that the then Auxiliary Bishop of Changanacherry, Mar Joseph Perumthottam would succeed Mar Joseph Powathil in the office as the Archbishop of Changanacherry.

Syro-Malabar Church: Before and After Mar Powathil

Liturgical Reformations

After the formation of two vikariats- Kottayam (Changanacherry) and Thrissure for the Mar Thoma Nazranis, concerns were raised for the native bishops to lead the church. Our forefathers believed that it was necessary for the restoration of our lost traditions and liturgy.  As a result, in the course of time, native bishops were entrusted the church. But due to the intensity of Latin formations, they were more or less ignorant to ask the Vatican to release Syriac translation of the Latin texts for the use in Malabar. Many works for regaining the lost liturgy was conducted in the course of time. But it got momentum only with the leadership of Mar Joseph Powathil. As the head of Central Liturgical Commission, he tried to restore the Holy Qurbana of the Syro-Malabar Church, as per the guidelines of Vatican. Result was the Restored Holy Qurbana, inaugurated by Saint Pope John Paul II, at Kottayam on February 8, 1986. After this, he tried to give awareness about our prestigious liturgy and traditions to the common laymen in different levels, starting with small children at Sunday Schools to the aged people using Mar Thoma Vidyanikethan.

The 'liturgy of the hours' (Yamaprarthanakal) of the Syro-Malabar Church got wide acceptance due to the work lead by Mar Powathil. Morning prayer (Sapra) became common in Churches and Evening Prayer (Ramsa) became popular in houses. Present young generation of the Archdiocese may find it hard to believe the fact that Yamaprarthanakal were hardly used some decades ago.

For the Identity of the Church

Head of the Mar Thoma Nazranis was known as the 'Gate of All India and its premises'. From this, the church was restricted to a small area bounded by the two rivers in the small state of Kerala. Even after the formation of hierarchy, most of the powers vested with the Vatican. In a Latin dominated Bishops Conference of India, Mar Powathil argued for the equality of all the individual churches in India. He raised voice for the right for mission work and the pastoral care for the migrants. As a result, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote the historic letter to all the bishops in India. Bishops Conference of India was restructured to give equal importance to all the individual churches in India- The Syro Malabar, Syro Malankara and Latin Churches. Syro Malabar Church was raised into the Major Archi Episcopal status in 1996 and many new dioceses and mission stations were started outside the territorial boundaries of the Church.

         For the Migrants

Mar Powathil was the one who thought about the migrants of the church. Due to the large scale migrations for the better job opportunities and educational needs, a large amount of faithful were forced to live in the Latin dioceses, outside the proper territory of the Church, without having proper pastoral care by the mother church. Mar Powathil raised the issue to Vatican and in the Bishops conferences. As a result, Mar Antony Padiyara was appointed as the Apostolic Visitor for the Migrants, to study the present status of the migrants and report the needs. As a result of the Apostolic Visitor's studies, large population of the faithful were identified in many cities and immediate action was taken to erect a new diocese of Kallyan for the migrants in and around Bombay.

A golden chance missed in 1990s

Mar Powathil was a great leader and the proud son of the Syro Malabar Church. Yet he didn't become the Major Archbishop of the Church. What ever be the reasons, it will be marked as the golden opportunity missed by the Syro-Malabar Church in the modern era.

Kerala  Churches- Mar Powathil= ???

Mar Powathil is a highly influencial and most respected personality among Kerala Christians.

Eccumenist Leader

For all who are outside the Syro-Malabar Church, Mar Powathil is the man of Ecumenism. He worked hard for the unity and co-operation among all the christian factions. He formed Nilackal Eccumenical Trust and Inter-Church Council for Education. Nilackal Church is considered as the first Ecumenical church in the world. There was a great progress in the Catholic-Orthodox and Catholic-Jacobite dialogues, under the leadership of Mar Powathil. Mar Powathil is also the life time member of Pro-Oriente eccumenical conference in Vienna. He succeeded in co-coordinating all the christian churches for the protection of faith and rights.

An ever Judicious Advocate of Minorities and Educational rights

Mar Powathil is regarded as the ever judicious Bishop. When ever there were challenges for the faith or minority rights, he came up with his powerful leadership. Whether it was College struggle(1972) against Congress led government's educational policies or in the Self financing college issue(2006) aginst the Communist government, Mar Powathil was there in the leadership to protect the rights of the faithful. Mar Powathil was the first one to identify the violation of Indian Constitution in the unanimously passed Self financing colleges bill. It was a new knowledge for even the members of the legislative assembly, when Mar Powathil explained the facts. He is ever judicious to each and every happenings around him. State witnessed his knowledge and powerful leadership in 2006, when the Communist led state government tried to take away the minority rights in the name of Self financing colleges bill.

A model for Social Service: Educational and Service Ventures

Alumni at famous Oxford university and the Professor at St. Berchmans' college changanacherry, Mar Powathil have a bunch of great students including Oommen Chandi (Chief Minister, Kerala) and Justce Cyriac Joseph (Supreme Court Judge)

There is no other bishop who had involved so much in the formation of Kerala state's higher education policy. 'College samaram' in 1972 and Self financing college issue in 2006, saw the courage, leadership and wisdom of Mar Powathil. He succeeded in finding the violation of Indian constitution in the Self financing colleges law, which was passed unanimously by the legislative assembly. Even the opposition leaders identified this violations, when Mar Powathil explained!!

The social development activities of Mar Joseph Powathil is a model for all. He founded the famous and prestigious Peerumedu Development Society (P.D.S) and the Malanadu Development Society (M. D. S) in 1977 while he was the bishop of Kanjirappaly. The Kuttanadu Vikasana Samithy (KVS) is another brainchild of Archbishop Powathil for the integral development of the place and people of Kuttanadu. These serves the Highrange and Kuttanad ever since their formation. Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi is regarded as the voice of the Kuttanad.

Mar Joseph Powathil's special care and concern for the margininalised, especially for the mentally challenged children is manifested in 19 special schools for the mentally challenged in the Archdiocese itself and four schools for the physically handicapped. The first school for the mentally challenged in the central Travancore region was opened by his initiative in 1972 (Asha Bhavan) at Ithithanam near Changanassery. Now it is the largest residential school with hundred students and twenty-five teaching and non-teaching staff.

Mar Powathil's support made the CHASS (Changanacherry Social Service Society) to develop a lot of projects for the welfare of the society. After the Episcopal Ordination of Mar Powathil in Vatican in 1972, he asked to avoid the wastage of money for receiving him. So the reception was done in a simple manner, and the rest of the money was given to Mar Powathil for the welfare activities. This was the birth of the Archdioce's 'Jiivakarunya nidhi' Now this had developed to a trust which gives support to the needy fraction of the society.

The innovative vision of Mar Joseph Powathil in the field of education gave way for the first University affiliated media college in south India, St. Joseph's College of Communication(SJCC) and the first Community college in Kerala, associated with a regular Arts and Science College- Assumption Institute of Technology(later renamed as Archbishop Powathil Assumption Community College)

In the scenario of 1998, where no one from Kerala was qualified for Indian Administrative Service(IAS) in the Civil service examination, Mar Powathil identified that it was due to the lack of proper training and guidance. Hence he gave form to the Palai St. Thomas Civil Service Institute as a joint venture of the Changanacherry, Palai and Kanjirappally dioceses. In the course of time it rose to become the synonym of the Civil Service training in Kerala and guided hundreds of aspirants into the prestigious Indian Civil Service. Even now, the institute keeps the words of Mar Powathil "This should not be for our profit, but service should be the objective." The institute provides the best training at the cheapest rates.

Mar Powathil's efforts for Communal harmony and Ecumenicism had a great impact. He formed Inter Religious Fellowship with other religious leaders. Nilackal Ecumenical Trust and Inter Church Council for Education was formed by the co operation of all the christian denominations. Nilackal St Thomas Ecumenical church became the world's first ecumenical church.

Rise of a Mar Powathil Generation...

'Pope John Paul II generation' is the term used to point to the generation which is blessed to live during his reign, witness his activites and to get motivated from him. Pope John Paul II was such a phenominal and influencial personality in the modern era. When the matter of Syro Malabar Church is considered, there is no one who is so influencial and inspiratonal as Mar Joseph Powathil. From a latinized church, he could restore an oriental church, From a church which was forced to be within a small territory of Kerala, he could manage to initiate mission dioceses in North India and USA. He could make the church into a Major Archi Episcopal church. He could gain the equality for all the individual churches in India. He could inaugurate the resored Holy Qurbana of Syro Malabar Church. He could protect the constitutional rights of the minorities in Kerala, He could prevent the Atheist attack, He could line up all the christian churches under the banner of Inter church council for Education and Nilackal Eccumenical trust, He could join hands with other religious leaders under Inter Religious Forum for the peaceful co-operation.  His love and affection to the marginized and poor gave form to 'Jiivakarunya Nidhi' and many schemes of CHASS. His vision and mision gave form to the First university affiliated media college in south India and the First Community college associated with a regular Arts and Science college in Kerala. Malanadu Development Society, Peerumed Development Society and Kuttanad Vikasana Samithi also shows his commitment towards the society. Hence it was not only the church, but also the entire society was blessed by the activities of Mar Powathil.

Precisely, i would like to use the term 'Mar Powathil Generation' to point out the Catholic generation which was blessed and influenced by the Phenomenal Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil. During the time when Mar Powathil became bishop, Syro Malabar Church's territory was limited inside a small boundary in Kerala. In a Latin dominated hierarchy of Catholic Bishops Conference in India, he raised voice for the equality of all the 3 individual churches in India and for the freedom for Missionary work. Mar Powathil had to argue a lot. Finally Mar Antony Padiyara was appointed to study the status of Syro Malabar migrants. Pope John Paul II wrote his historic letter to the bishops in India, stating the equality of all the Individual churches...And now every one accepts the equality of 3 individual churches in India, Mission diocese started to be created in India and USA, Chruch now considers the matter of Migrants as of great importance...We have to thank Mar Powathil for this...Again, his arguments and activities were crucial in raising Syro Malabar Church to a Major Archi Episcopal church.

Ecumenism in Kerala witnessed its peak with the leadership of Mar Powathil. His leadership improved the co-operation with all the christian churches and other religions in Kerala. His ecumenical  leadership was not limited in Kerala. His works for the Catholic-Jacobite dialogues gave form to a lot of agreements between the Vatican and Jacobite churches.

Mar Powathil's important contribution was in liturgy. Syro Malabar Holy Qurbana was restored by his great initiative. His pastoral and catechetical care made people of many dioceses aware of the sacred liturgical traditions of Syro Malabar Church. Use of the traditional 'Litugy of Hours' was popularized by him. He took initiative to teach the faithful about our sacred traditions, liturgy and Holy Qurbana. He popularized the use of Mar Sleeva. From the design of the churches, to the vestment of the priests, an oriental form was appeared because of his great leadership. His leadership, guidance and support was a great help for the scholars who researched for the traditions of the church. With his support, they could do a lot for the benefit of the mother church.

When Mar Powathil came with his concepts, majority was against him. He had to suffer a lot. But the truth cannot be hidden. In a poetic justice, every one now understands the correctness of this great leader. Now majority of the bishops and faithful follows his teachings. A new generation, interested in the great traditions and the identity of Syro Malabar church had risen. It includes Major Archbishop, Bishops, Priests, Laity, Youth and even small children. Let the future of the Syro Malabar church be safe in this 'Mar Powathil generation'...

And Finally,,

Let me conclude, quoting the words of Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo, Latin Archbishop of Ranchi and the former President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India. "...The children of the Syro-Malabar Church would gratefully remember the efforts and leadership Mar Powathil has given during a defining moment in the history of this church, especially for the restoration of its legitimate rights and its identity as an individual Church...His tenure as Bishop and Archbishop was a historical period for the Syro-Malabar Church marked by no small number of challenges and problems...This was a challenge that required tough choices and he took tough choices, and history proves that he stood in the right track...He is a champion of the identity of the Syro-Malabar Church in the contemporary period..." Yes, he is the champion of the Syro-Malabar Church in the modern era, the one who can be undoubltfully called as the 'Crown of Syro-Malabar Church'

*Section taken from wikepedia and edited


  1. utter nonsense by powathil mafia, contrary to the true history of the syro malabar church

    1. Faceless people use vulgar terminologies to attack the reality...

  2. NO I respect H.H mar joseph powathil.Oneday, i am sure you will understand the truth. Yes he is the "father" of syro malabar catholic church.

  3. Most Respected Arch Bishop March Joseph Powathil, is a Patriarch, sent by the lord to give leadership in the rebuilding process of Syro Malabar Church. If he was not there the present movement in the direction of rebuilding the lost traditions and rich elements of our Liturgy, would not have been possible. Though a faction work against him with vested interests, Ruha D Khudsha gives him power and courage to lead his church in the right direction.

  4. Identity and Rite are all understandable. However the universality of the Catholic Church, the need for more closeness to all its independent Churches,specially the one namely Latin which has worldwide presence must be at the bottom of the mind of the Syro Malabar hierarchy as well as at the top of its mind. We may approach problems with humility and intense faith in the Universal Church.


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