My Dear Brother Bishops,
It is ten months since the letter of Pope Francis extending the jurisdiction of the Syro-Malabar Church to all parts oflndia was sent to us. We had a meeting in November at St Pius College, Goregaon, where all our Archbishops reflected on the implications of the October 19. 2017 letter of Pope Francis to the Bishops of India. l wrote to the Holy Father and to Cardinal Parolin, the Secretary of State, sharing our reflections. l have recently received an acknowledgment from the Secretary of State with also a few suggestions for the future. After these several months and taking into consideration our experience in the pastoral field it is time to take our reflections further. l delayed sharing these reflections because Cardinal Parolin requested me to wait for his own response before writing to you.
I have the following thoughts to share with you in an on-going process.
1. The basic principle that lies behind Pope Francis’ letter is Freedom. Freedom to worship in the Church/Rite of one’s choice. Hence, the Syro-Malabar faithful who were hitherto cared for by Latin Rite Bishops in Latin Rite dioceses are invited to receive pastoral care from the Syro-Malabar Bishops. They key word is ‘invited.’ They are not forced to take pastoral care from the Syro-Malabar Bishops. Anyone who attempts to put pressure on them would go against the letter and spirit of the Pope‘s letter. Similarly, Latin faithful who are being cared for by the Syro-Malabar Bishops/ Priests are to be invited to worship in the Latin Rite. This opportunity should be given to them. There is to be no pressure on anyone to go to this or to that Church.
2. An implication is for us Latin Bishops to examine our own pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar faithful in our dioceses. Are we caring for them adequately? For their faith formation? For their preparation to receive the Sacraments? Perhaps making available to them a liturgy in a language they are comfortable with?
3. Consequently for the Syro-Malabar faithful: they are welcome to continue to worship in the Latin Church. They are welcome to receive Sacraments in the Latin Church if they wish to. They are not to feel like outsiders. This is important. Do we need to take permission from the Oriental Bishop/ Parish Priest for this? I am aware that the instruction in Faridabad said that such permission had to be obtained for Baptism (the same was not said about Confirmation). However, since the October l9, 2017 letter is from the Holy Father, it supersedes other directives. The freedom which the Holy Father gives directly to the faithful cannot be restricted by any other authority. Hence, it would be wrong for anyone to put obstacles in the exercise of this freedom. My opinion is therefore that permission is not required because requesting permission implies that it may or may not be granted by the competent authority. For good order and propriety it may be agreed upon that information be given for the purpose of keeping of records entry into registers etc. This could be discussed by the appropriate bodies.
4. Since there are several Oriental Rite Religious Congregations working in Latin Rite Dioceses and there has been an excellent working relationship, for the benefit of all concerned, I strongly recommend that the Latin Rite Bishops enter into a contract with them, specifying the nature of the work and the duration of the contract so that some stability is ensured and the direction and thrust of the apostolic works are not dependent just on the preference of an individual Major Superior.
5. Since the principle of freedom is now established, the Latin faithful who are presently under the care of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy (having domicile in the territory of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy) should have the freedom to take pastoral care in the Latin Rite. We should therefore already now start planning our appointment of personnel to take care of these faithful if they wish to receive pastoral care including the Sacraments from the Latin Rite dioceses. I foresee there may be some modification of the boundaries of our dioceses so that Latin faithful will be once again cared for by our Bishops.
The Holy Father in granting freedom to all has done so keeping in mind the teaching and spirit of Vatican II. I urge all my brother Bishops to be sensitive to the situation of the Syro-Malabar and SyroMalankara Churches both of which are much smaller than the Latin Rite Church and so need special care and attention to grow and flourish. We need to work in harmony and collaboration following the call of Pope Francis’ letter and keeping in mind the words of St John Paul II, who advised us not to have ‘any rivalry or competition’ but to work together for a New Evangelization. I do hope these reflections above are useful.
With kind regards and fratemal best wishes in Christ.
Oswald Cardinal Gracias
Abp of Bombay and President of CCBI