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All India Jurisdiction and the Eparchy of Shamshabad

The Syro-Malabar Migration as the Reason for All India Jurisdiction

In the modern times, the pressing reason for the restoration of All India Jurisdiction was for enabling the pastoral care of the migrants and the evangelization of India through the migrants and the numerous missionary personnel. Globalization has been instrumental for the spread of the Syro-Malabar Church to different cities of India and of the globe. Hence the Syro-Malabar Church has grown to a global Church mainly due to the migration of the 20thand 21stcenturies. The adventurous movements of the Syro-Malabar faithful, in the search for greener pastures, have often been compelled by the scarcities in the homeland and been inspired by the perceived opportunities in the distant regions and countries. The contribution of the educational institutions in Kerala equipped them to go far and wide across the globe. The migrants, who are settled in different places across the globe, have grown to the second and third generations so as to become sons and daughters of the respective countries of their settlement. Hence thanks to migration, Syro-Malabar Church, which was earlier confined to the territorial limits of Kerala, has grown now to a global Church, spreading the Good News of our Lord, which she inherited from St. Thomas, the Apostle, in the multi-cultural-linguistic and religious contexts of the world.

Migration: History and Statistics

The number of internal migration in the colonial times was rather very small, i.e., 3 to 4 percent of the total population of India. But millions of unskilled laborers from North India were taken by the British outside India to their colonies. The post-independence scenario was very different. In the late 1950’s, the Syro-Malabar faithful started migrating and this gathered momentum in 1960’s and peaked in 1980’s. If it was those agricultural and unskilled workers who migrated in the 1950’s, it was mostly the semiskilled, high school educated population who migrated up to the 1960s. From the 1970’s, the nurses, engineers, doctors and IT professionals migrated in large numbers. The first part of the migration was internal but later, to USA, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and so on. Bigger flow of migration took place into Gulf countries with the onset of the oil boom in the 1960’s. The unskilled and semiskilled migrants neither had the required language skills nor the economic power to build a distinct identity within the community they migrated to. But the skilled professionals with their education qualifications and economic status could build a standing in the place of their migration than those of the previous generation.

Today the total strength of the Syro-Malabar Church is about 50,00,000 faithful of which more than 13,00,000 are migrants outside Kerala. The migrants are numbered to be more than 550,000 in India, outside Kerala and 750,000 outside India. Now outside the Syro-Malabar Eparchies in India, there are more than 200,000 who need to have proper ecclesiastical circumscription and the same way 550,000 outside India which includes Gulf countries,[1] Europe, United Kingdom, Singapore, Africa, and so on. The Syro-Malabar Church has taken very effective and concrete steps for the pastoral care of migrants.[2]

Ministry of Apostolic Visitors and Synodal Commission

Pastor Bonus has stated that the Congregation for the Oriental Churches is competent to even to establish stable visitors. This sometimes means Visitors of the Congregation or on the other occasions an Apostolic Visitor – one with a pontifical nomination and supplied with, in particular cases, determinate faculties.[3] We should gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the Holy See for providing pastoral care for the Syro-Malabar emigrants in different parts of the world by appointing Apostolic Visitors.

On behalf of the faithful, the Bishops of the Syro Malabar Church used to make its requests and representations to the Apostolic See for the pastoral care of migrants and possibility for evangelization. In order to study the possibilities of the pastoral care of migrants and evangelization, the Apostolic See had appointed Apostolic Visitors. On 8th Sept 1978, Pope John Paul I appointed Mar Antony Padiyara as an Apostolic Visitor to study the situation of migrant Syro-Malabar Catholics in India who continued till 23rd April 1985. In 1980, Mar Padiyara Submitted the report to Pope John Paul II. In 1986 Pope John Paul II visited India and studied the matter personally. Pope John Paul II of happy memory sent a letter on 28th May 1987 to all the bishops in India regarding the pastoral care and mission of the Eastern Catholics in India after which the eparchy of Kalyan was erected in the year 1988 for the Syro Malabar Migrants in Mumbai-Pune region. After a gap, Bishop Gratian Mundadan CMI was appointed Apostolic Visitor in India on 15th July 2006. As soon as the Synodal system and curia was established, a commission for the Evangelization and Pastoral care was set with one chairman and two members (three Bishops) and one priest secretary assisted by sisters at Mount St. Thomas office. Mar Gregory Karotemprel, C.M.I., was the first Chairman of this Synodal Commission and Mar Sebastian Vadakkel MST is the present Chairman.

The Syro-Malabar Church continuously requested the Apostolic See in Rome for the pastoral care provisions from the beginning of migration itself. As a result of everyone’s selfless hard work, Eparchy of St. Thomas in Chicago in 2001 for the whole of United States and its Bishop as the Apostolic Visitor to Canada, Eparchy of Faridabad in 2012, Eparchy of St. Thomas in Melbourne for the whole of Australia and its Bishop as the Apostolic Visitor to New Zealand in 2014, Exarchate of Mississauga for the whole of Canada in 2015 came into existence. In all these places, a very cordial relationship with other sui iuris Churches has been maintained.

From 2008 onwards, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) through the working of its Special Commission and different bodies (Standing Committee and General Body) came to a consensus that the Syro Malabar Church could be given jurisdiction over its faithful with three eparchies centred at Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai and one eparchy or exarchy for the rest of India. In 2012 the eparchy of Faridabad for Delhi region was erected.

On 11th January 2014 Bishop Raphael Thattil, Auxiliary Bishop of Trichur, was appointed as the new Apostolic Visitor for the Syro-Malabar migrant faithful residing the Syro-Malabar jurisdiction. Bishop Raphael Thattil, as Apostolic Visitor, has done great things for the growth of the Church in India, especially of the Syro Malabar Church. Bishop Thattil worked hard to study the situation, travelling through the length and breadth of India meeting the migrants and local authorities including bishops and submitted reports to the Apostolic See. As a result in 2015, the territory of Mandya was extended to include Bangalore region and on 09th October 2017 two eparchies of Hosur and Shamshabad were established. This is clear from the historical letter dated 9th October 2017 of Pope Francis to the Bishops of India in which we read: “Bishop Raphael Thattil is currently the Apostolic Visitor for those Syro Malabar faithful in India who lives outside their own territory, and he has provided detailed reports to the Apostolic See. This issue has been examined in meetings at the highest levels of the Church. Following these steps, I believe the time is now right to complete this process.”[4] Thus he became the last Apostolic Visitor for the jurisdictional affairs of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Restoration of All India Jurisdiction and its Territory

In the letter of Pope Francis to all the Catholic Bishops of India dt. on 9th October 2017, we read, “In 2011 my predecessor Benedict XVI wished to provide for the pastoral needs of the Syro-Malabar faithful throughout India, and I confirmed his intention following the plenary session of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in 2013.” The Pope continues to write in the same letter, “I have therefore authorized the Congregation for the Oriental Churches to provide for the pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar faithful throughout India by the erection of two Eparchies and by the extension of the boundaries of the two already in existence. I decree also that the new circumscriptions, as with those already in existence, be entrusted to the pastoral care of the Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly and to the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, according to the norms of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.”[1]

The erection decree of the Eparchy of Shamshabad is signed by Pope Francis himself. In the erection decree, it is iterated “in the fullness of our Apostolic authority, we erect and constitute the new eparchy under the name of SHAMSHABAD, out of all the territories of India where at present the eparchial jurisdiction for the Christian faithful of the same Syro-Malabar Church is wanting. ... We decide that this eparchy be subject to the Major Archbishop and the Synod of the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church for its pastoral care.”[2]

[1] Synodal News, Vol.25, No.1-2, December 2017, p. 184.

[2] Cf. English Translation of the Decree of Erection of the Eparchy of Shamshabad, Synodal News, Vol.25, No.1-2, December 2017, pp.191-192.


[1] There are two Apostolic Vicariates in the Gulf countries: The Southern Vicariate - the territories of the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen and the Northern Vicariate - Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

[2] In spite of many limitations, the Syro-Malabar Church has been trying to be proactive in the issue of migrants and has taken a number of steps for their pastoral care. From the time the migration started from the South Kerala to the North Kerala, the Church with her creative intervention took effective pastoral care and the Eparchy of Thalassery was erected in 1953, which got later divided into other 5 more eparchies. After II Vatican Council, influenced by its teachings especially on communion ecclesiology, the Syro-Malabar Church became greatly conscious of her own ecclesial identity and of her responsibility to provide proper pastoral care to her own migrant sons and daughters living in Diaspora especially outside Kerala and abroad.

[3] Pastor Bonus, John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution, 28th June 1988. Art. 59 — The Congregation pays careful attention to communities of Oriental Christian faithful living within the territories of the Latin Church, and attends to their spiritual needs by providing visitors and even a hierarchy of their own, so far as possible and where numbers and circumstances demand it, in consultation with the Congregation competent for the establishment of particular Churches in that region.

[4] Cf. English Translation of the Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Bishops of India, Synodal News, Vol.25, No.1-2, December 2017, p.184. L’Osservatore Romano, English Edition, no. 41, 13 Oct 2017, p.5.