For more than 7000 strong Syro-Malabar faithful of Rome, 21st October 2012 was one of the most unforgettable day – the day they celebrated as Syro-Malabar Heritage day. The day marked the 125th Anniversary celebration of the erection of the first Apostolic Vicariates of the Syro-Malabar Church, namely, that of Trichur and Kottayam and the celebration of the feast of St. Alphonsa. The occasion was the visit of the Major Archbishop George Cardinal Alencherry to Rome and the venue was the Pilgrim Centre of Divino Amore. An estimated 1000 participants – priests, brothers, religious sisters and lay persons – participated in the celebration that lasted the whole day.
The celebration began with two separate seminars – one for the lay faithful conducted by Fr. Biju Muttathukunnel, the newly appointed Assistant parish priest for our community in Rome and the other for priests, brothers and religious sisters in which the key note address was given by His Excellency Mar Joseph Kallarangatt who spoke on the Syro-Malabar Church and the New Evangelization. The second seminar was also conspicuous for the 8 presentations on various topics by 7 priests and 1 sister who are doing their higher studies in Rome. This session was moderated by His Grace Archbishop Andrews Thazhath. The Major Archbishop also was present for the seminar. Fr. Stephen Chirappanath, the Procurator welcomed the guests and participants to the seminar. After the conclusion of both the seminars, lunch was served to the participants. Immediately after lunch, began the long procession of the faithful carrying the statues of St. Thomas and St. Alphonsa with the accompaniment of ornamented umbrellas and chendamelam. His Excellency Mar Pauly Kannookadan led the procession that wound its way through the beautiful grounds of the pilgrim centre to the newly built modern church. This was followed by a concelebrated solemn Holy Qurbana with the Major Archbishop as the main celebrant and Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt and Bishop Pauly Kannookadan and many priests as concelebrants. At the beginning of the Holy Qurbana, Archbishop Andrews Thazhath invited the gathering to remember in the Qurbana Fr. Stephen Chirapanath whose sacerdotal silver jubilee fell this year. The Homily was preached by His Excellency Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt. The big church was fully packed with participants in which some Italian priests and faithful too joined. After the Holy Qurbana, there was a public meeting in the auditorium. The Major Archbishop inaugurated the meeting after which he announced to the gathering the news of the Holy Father conferring the title of Monsignor on Rev. Fr. Stephen Chirapanath. When the prolonged applause died down, Fr. Antony Kollannur, the Major Archiepiscopal Chancellor, read out the Papal Document in Latin conferring the title of Monsignor on Fr. Stephen Chirapanath. Bishop Pauly Kannookadan then presented the new Monsignor with the sash. Archbishop Andrews Thazhath felicitated Mgr. Stephen presenting him with a bouquet of flowers. Mgr. Pier Paulo, the person in charge of the immigrants to Italy, was amazed to see such a great number of Syro-Malabar faithful gathered to celebrate the feast of St. Alphonsa in Rome. He wished the community all the best and felicitated Fr. Stephen on his being honoured with the title of Monsignor. Fr. Baiju Edatt, the coordinator for the Knanaya Community also felicitated the gathering on the occasion. The public meeting was followed by a cultural evening in which many traditional art forms of the Marthoma Christians such as the margam kali, parichamuttukali and other dance forms like thiruvathirakali were presented by the St. Thomas Family Unit, the Knanaya community, the seminarians of the three seminaries in Rome, the Jesus Youth and Kumary Michel, the first prize winner of the dance competition. Fr. Biju Muttathukunnel thanked everyone and the gathering dispersed with their hearts and minds filled with a greater sense of communion and self-identity.
Fr. Antony Kollannur,
Major Archiepiscopal Chancellor