Written by David Ahern, Kairos Catholic Journal and images by Casamento Photography
Family groups, many in traditional Indian dress, gathered at St Patrick’s Cathedral on the evening of 25 March for the installation of the first Syro-Malabar Eparch in Australia, Bishop Bosco Puthur, and the formal establishment of the Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle in Melbourne.
Special celebrants, dignitaries and the Syro-Malabar faithful attended from around Victoria, Australia and overseas. Celebrants included Major Archbishop Cardinal George Alencherry, Archbishop Paul Gallagher; Apostolic Nuncio to Australia, Archdeacon Fr Francis Kolencherry; Vicar General, St Thomas the Apostle Eparchy, Archbishop Denis Hart; Archbishop of Melbourne and President of Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Mgr Greg Bennet; Vicar General, Archdiocese of Melbourne.
Dozens of priests and bishops from the Latin and Syro-Malabar rites and parish priests from the Melbourne Archdiocese participated in the Mass and installation, with St Patrick’s Cathedral at near capacity.
Following the announcement of the new eparchy by Pope Francis in January, Melbourne and Chicago are the only two dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church outside India. Though relatively new migrants to Australia and New Zealand, the Syro-Malabar faithful now number about 40,000.
Archbishop Hart and Fr Kolencherry, a Syro-Malabar priest from the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, made welcoming addresses.
“It is a great honour for us to welcome Bishop Puthur and to make available St Patrick’s Cathedral for this significant ceremony in the life of the Church,” Archbishop Hart said.
“Dear Bishop Bosco, it is with joy and warmth on behalf of the Syro-Malbarese people, the people of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and of the Dioceses of Australia and New Zealand, that I welcome you as you take possession of the Eparchy of St Thomas of Melbourne.
“Today we assure you of our prayers and support, of our welcome among us as a brother bishop and of our love and respect for the ancient tradition of the St Thomas Christians which you carry with you and your people into new countries and with new challenges.”
Fr Kolencherry warmly welcomed the Latin and Eastern Rites’ priests and bishops and all those who travelled long distances to attend the ceremony. The origins of the Syro-Malabar Catholics, who were known as St Thomas Christians until the late 19th century, can be traced back to 52AD when Thomas the Apostle arrived in Kodungallur in Kerala, India to spread Christ’s message.
Archbishop Paul Gallagher read the Papal Bull, while traditional hymns performed by the 30-strong choir greatly enriched the two-hour service.
In his homily Cardinal Alencherry said the installation of Bishop Puthur was a great blessing for the Catholic Church.
“Let us be thankful to God for this gift of the new eparchy and also for the first bishop of this eparchy, Mar Bosco Puthur. The enthusiasm of the Syro-Malabar communities in Melbourne and in Australia deserve special mention.”
The Mass ended with words of thanks from Bishop Puthur, especially for Pope Francis and Archbishop Gallagher.
“It is [also] with the generous support of the Most Reverend Denis Hart, Archbishop of Melbourne and the Catholic Bishops Conference in Australia and the Bishops Conference of New Zealand that the ceremony has been so smooth today,” Bishop Puthur said.
“I’d also like to express my appreciation (and) the timely support that I continue to get from the bishops and parish priests in Australia and in New Zealand,” he added.
Bishop Puthur also paid tribute to a former Archbishop in India who made the long journey to Melbourne for the ceremony.
“He’s 84 and yet he came enthusiastically to take part in this ceremony,” said Bishop Puthur, a remark that drew loud applause.