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Thursday, 29 June 2023 19:26

Syro-Malabar chaplaincy celebrates unique heritage of immigrant community

Syro Malabar community Alice Springs gathering 550As a new Syro-Malabar bishop begins his ministry in Australia, Fr Joe Jacob SVD says his own chaplaincy ministry to the Syro-Malabar community in Alice Springs brings him much contentment as he cares for the spiritual needs of migrants who are far from home.

Bishop John Panamthottathil CMI was ordained the second leader of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle in Melbourne on May 31.

He will lead a growing Catholic community, with official statistics showing 20 per cent growth between the 2016 and 2021 Censuses.

In Australia, there are 13 Syro-Malabar parishes among a total of 33 missions. There are 13 additional missions in New Zealand, and while there are Syro-Malabar faithful in Oceania, there are no missions established there.

The new chief shepherd of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy in Australia, New Zealand and Oceania says his first priority is to meet with and listen to the faithful, before working together to formulate a pastoral plan for the region.

“The first thing I want to do is go out to the people, to listen to them, to listen to the priests, and just spend some time with them,” Bishop John said.

Fr Joe has been working with Indian immigrants of the Syro-Malabar Catholic rite in Central Australia for more than a year.

Syro Malabar community Alice Springs Mass 550He says the Syro-Malabar mission in Alice Springs cares for about 55 families, about 250 people, who have moved to Central Australia mainly to work in the hospital as nurses and paramedical staff.

“Since it is a remote area of Australia, it is pretty easy for the people to get jobs in the hospital,” he says.

“Besides, it is very feasible for the people to have access to the church, hospital, school, police station, shops and other important spheres of life in a short time, due to the geography of the land.

“Moreover, it is faster to acquire permanent residency, a driving licence and a higher salary here than in other states of Australia.

“Therefore, the immigrants are attracted and encouraged to come here to work and live temporarily until they fulfil their wishes.”

Fr Joe says he has enjoyed his first year of chaplaincy to the Syro-Malabar community in Alice Springs.

“I would say that there are excitements, contentment, and gladness pertaining to this chaplaincy,” he says.

“The main joy for me is that I am able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the Syro-Malabar rite, which is a unique rite of the eastern Catholic Church.

“Nevertheless, there are challenges too that I experience in this ministry. One of the main challenges would be the lack of active participation from people in leadership roles of the Mission due to their work and transitioning to other states. It is a very transient population.”

Fr Joe says the Syro-Malabar chaplaincy is a unique chaplaincy in Central Australia.

Syro Malabar community Alice Springs 550“It’s known for its unique Syrian liturgy, sacraments, language, faith and tradition,” he says.

“One of the gifts of the Syro-Malabar liturgy is its liturgical tradition, which is very ancient, arising from the East Syrian heritage.

“All the Eastern liturgies place more stress on the sacrificial and mystical dimension of the Eucharist. That is why the Syro-Malabar church celebrates the first part of the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Word, facing the people, and the second part, the Liturgy of the Bread, facing the East or the altar.

“Since it is one among the 24 Catholic rites and the second largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world, it stands distinctive under the umbrella of the One Catholic Church.”

Fr Joe attended the episcopal ordination of Bishop John in Melbourne, along with other priests of the Syro-Malabar rite, bishops from India, Europe and the United States and 20 members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

PHOTOS

TOP RIGHT: Members of the Syro-Malabar community in Alice Springs gathered together.

MIDDLE LEFT: Fr Joe Jacob SVD celebrating the Holy Eucharist in the Syro-Malabar Rite.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Fr Joe (back row) with members of the community at Christmas.