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Parishes in a strife-torn Indian archdiocese reportedly refused to read out a letter from a papal delegate at Sunday liturgies.

Archbishop Cyril Vasil’, center, after his arrival in India. Credit: Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly .

According to local media, most parishes in the Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly declined a request by Archbishop Cyril Vasil’ to read out the letter Aug. 6 during Eucharistic liturgies, known in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church as the Holy Qurbana. 

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Vasil’ said in his Aug. 5 letter that Pope Francis had named him as his delegate “with the purpose of helping the archeparchy implement the Syro-Malabar synodal decision on the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Qurbana which is also approved by the Holy Father.”

The Slovak Jesuit archbishop, whose appointment was announced July 31 and who arrived in India Aug. 4, was referring to a 2021 decision by the Synod of Bishops — the Syro-Malabar Church’s supreme authority — to introduce the new mode of the Eucharistic liturgy in all 35 Syro-Malabar dioceses worldwide.

The uniform mode is a compromise between the Syro-Malabar Church’s ancient tradition, in which the priest looked east — ad orientem — and the post-Vatican II practice where the priest faced the people throughout the liturgy —versus populum

In the new mode, the priest faces the people during the Liturgy of the Word, turns toward the altar for the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and turns back to the people after Communion. 

The Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy is the only diocese to have seen widespread resistance to the implementation of the new liturgy, which has taken the form of street brawls, hunger strikes, and the burning of cardinals in effigy, as well as clashes in the sanctuary of the local cathedral, which has been closed since December.

Pope Francis has intervened twice in support of the uniform liturgy, in a July 2021 letter to all Syro-Malabar Catholics and in a March 2022 letter to members of the archeparchy.


The Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy is the most prominent of the 35 dioceses as it is the see of the Major Archbishop, or head, of the Syro-Malabar Church, the second-largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome after the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Vasil’, who served as secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Eastern Churches from 2009 to 2020, when he was asked to lead the Slovak Greek Catholic Church’s Eparchy of Košice, asked members of the archeparchy for their “prayers, cooperation, and support.”

“Let us seek a solution that is in harmony with the will of the Lord,” he wrote. “I humbly request the parish priests, rectors of shrines and of the minor seminary, as well as the superiors of religious communities, to organize an hour of adoration in their respective churches during the period between the 6th and the 15th of August, dedicated to praying for this intention. I also encourage those who are willing to observe a day of fasting.” 

“Additionally, I humbly request all the faithful to include the above-mentioned intention in their prayers, whether during the recitation of the holy rosary or other prayers within their families, religious houses, and churches. We firmly believe that it is the Lord who guides our path, and it is only by following His way that we shall find the right course of action.”

He went on: “Dear brothers and sisters, the matter of how to celebrate the Holy Qurbana has been a significant concern for our archeparchy and the entire Syro-Malabar Church in recent years. Resolving this issue peacefully and with generosity of hearts will enable us to focus on other important matters to which the Lord calls us.”

“Therefore, I earnestly encourage each and every one of you to pray and work diligently towards achieving union of minds and hearts in pursuit of this goal. Through our collective efforts, we can find a lasting solution and move forward as a stronger and more united Christian community.”

The Hindu, an Indian newspaper, reported that Vasil’ began his mission Monday with a meeting in Kochi with five priests of the archeparchy who had discussed the liturgy issue with synod members in January.

The newspaper cited an unnamed member of the group who said that the archbishop underlined during the two-and-half-hour meeting that his task was to help the archeparchy introduce the uniform liturgy, “contrary to an earlier impression that he would hear both sides before reaching a decision on the liturgical issue.” 

Vasil’ reportedly also met with members of a consultative forum of the archeparchy and former curia members.

In a July 31 statement published on the Eparchy of Košice’s website, Vasil’ said that he would visit the Ernakulam-Angamaly archeparchy “for a few weeks” for a “first assessment of the tense situation.” 

“I already visited the Syro-Malabar Church several times in the past, while I was still working at the Congregation for the Eastern Churches. I also addressed some questions related to this Church in the framework of my previous academic activity,” he wrote. 

“Nevertheless, I consider it necessary not only to solve the situation remotely and, so to speak, from the office desk, but also through personal experience and conversations. and assessments of the situation on the ground.” 

“Only after this first visit will I be able to judge better what the next steps will be necessary to implement the decision of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church, and whether any other visits will be necessary to achieve this goal.”

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