Hyderabad: The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church on Sunday scored a historic victory with the inauguration of the Shamshabad Diocese here with pan-India jurisdiction, excluding the existing 30 dioceses, something they lost in 1886 to the Latin Church.
With over 5 million followers, the Kerala-based church is the second largest Christian grouping in India. Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, formally dedicated the diocese to the Vatican with the installation of Raphael Thattil as its first bishop.
The enthronement ceremony was attended by two cardinals - including Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, the president of the Catholics Bishops Conference of India - senior Vatican representative Archbishop Cyril Vasil and Hyderabad Archbishop Thumma Bala, along with over a dozen archbishops and more than 40 bishops from across the country.
The Diocese of Shamshabad in Hyderabad is the 31st for the Kerala-based church and also the largest in the country with administrative control across 24 states, including the entire Eastern and Northeastern regions, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, four Union Territories and all those areas which are not governed by the 14 dioceses outside Kerala.
This Kerala church, which traces its origins to 52 AD and is believed to be founded directly by St Thomas the Apostle, is also the third largest under the Vatican, after the Latin Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Catholic Churches. Its members are a financially, politically and numerically a powerful community in Kerala. This church also has four dioceses outside India in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US - and 14 other dioceses in the country.
The Vatican, the global headquarters of the Catholic Church and the seat of Pope Francis, had announced the creation of the Shamshabad diocese on October 9 last year. The new bishop Thattil will serve 1,30,000 faithful spread across 100 cities in the country and has 11 functional churches and seven under construction with around 90 priests and a few hundred nuns.
The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the oldest churches in the world, in fact, much older than those in the Western Hemisphere, and traces its origins to the Apostle Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus, who arrived in Kerala in 52 AD at Kodungallur in the central part of the present-day Kerala.
The name Syro-Malabar Church is coined from the words `Syriac', referring to the East Syriac liturgy, and `Malabar', the historical name of Kerala. The Syro-Malabar Catholics, also known as St Thomas Christians, lost their administrative powers to the Latin Church after the Portuguese missionaries wrested control over them in 1886 and were limited to just two territories -- Thrissur and Kottayam -- in the present-day Kerala. Till then, Kodungallur was the headquarters of these Christians. In 1955, the Vatican extended the territory of this church to the whole of Kerala and a few districts of neighbouring Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.