Bp Joseph Pamplany
When do you plan to have your episcopal ordination?
It will be on November 8th.
Does that date have any special significance?
It doesn’t have any particular significance. The Pastoral Council opted for that day after taking many things into considerations.
Have you decided on your motto?
Yes, I have selected St Thomas Aquinas’ Non nisi te, Domine, which means ‘Nothing but you, Lord’ as my motto. There is a story which says that St Thomas had a vision of Jesus when he felt dispirited thinking that all he had written was rubbish. In the vision, Jesus told St Thomas that he had done very well in writing and asked if he expected anything more from Him. In response St Thomas said, “Nothing but you, Lord.”
Why were you attracted to it?
Because I was fascinated about this particular experience of St Thomas, which showed God is necessary for everything. This is one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible. Jesus also preached about it. Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is everything. That idea is contained in the first commandment as well.
But there are people who say you can no more speak about God in such a fashion, because according to them the Kingdom of God is a possibility. God, as Nicholas of Cusa will say, is a possibility. What God gives is hope in the two dimensions of space and time. What is your opinion on that?
From a theological point of view, I have no problem in accepting such an interpretation. Even if God is visualised as hope, it gives us a reason to hope. In front of God nothing will have meaning without hoping. This hope does not come from me; rather, it originates from God.
As the auxiliary bishop of Tellicherry archdiocese what would be your pastoral priority?
I have seen a kind of growing indifference in the pastoral field both from the side of the people and from the side of the shepherds. My primary concern is to rejuvenate them so that they become active participants in it.
Why do you think there is a feeling of numbness and indifference creeping into the pastoral field?
On the one hand there is an extreme pietism going on and on the other hand people are the least concerned about the heart of spirituality. Pietism is attracting great many people, but it is not able to formulate an ecclesial spirituality, a spirituality that would help people to live in and around the altar of the Lord, taking shelter under ChriSt
Has it anything to do with the market culture or has it something to do with relativism?
I am not exactly against retreat centres, but the spirituality that is being promoted in them should help to promote ecclesial spirituality. It is the Church and not the retreat centres or the preachers that are important. People must be led to the Church and they should live up to the principles of the Church.
Wouldn’t it be true to say that these retreat centres are very often promoting spirituality or religiosity that is edited to suit the market?
Yeah, that’s true.
Would you agree that by and large the Syro-Malabar community is also infected by the consumer culture that is around us?
That is very much true. Spirituality is stepping down in favour of a culture which sociologists would call megalomania. Everything is done in a pompous way; the biggest church, the biggest festival and so on. Such a worldly consumer spirit is intruding into our own lives; in the life of leaders, priests as well as the laity.
Is it not also true about other religions? Would you also agree that fundamentalism is a consequence of the market economy?
That is true. Consumerist culture is the arch-enemy of every religion and religious cult.
But at the same time consumerist culture also is corrupting other religions, doesn’t it?
That is true, but it cannot be a justification for us to take the consumerist path, because we are called to bear witness to the real truth before other religions. The reality of consumerism in other religions should not become an excuse for our consumeristic practises.
The market culture has taken a great toll of the Catholic community and of spirituality in the west. It has decimated the Church. Do you think that our own Church is also under that kind of an onslaught?
Although it may not repeat in the same manner as in the west, we will experience it in one manner or another. Believing without belonging is the attitude existing now in the European Church. They also have faith, but it is directly linked to God bypassing the Church. The present day trend in Kerala’s Catholic Church is also very similar to that. We may eventually end up going the European way.
We are sort of witnessing the death of the European Church. Many convents, monasteries and parishes are getting closed. Do we have that tendency here?
When we study the decline of the European Church we can understand it started with the decline in the number of nuns. That is the initial sign of the death of the Church in a particular locality, because it is through the nuns and not through the priests that the gospel is being carried to the grass root level. It is the initiatives taken by the nuns that are making the gospel practical and acceptable to the average Catholic. When the number of nuns starts declining, the practice of the Gospel somehow gets demeaned in the community and that slowly leads to the decline of the Church. A similar tendency is taking shape in the Kerala Church also. The decline of women’s vocation is indeed a bad sign for our Church.
Is the Kerala Church fully aware, alert and proactive with regard to this crisis?
I think the gravity of this problem has not been grasped sufficiently. We need to consider this matter more meaningfully. We need to address it from an ecclesial point of view. Now-a-days we are addressing this issue from a congregational point of view. We compare the increase and decrease in the number of vocations of a particular congregation with previous years and also with another congregation, addressing it as an issue affecting certain religious orders. But that is not the real issue. We must see in it a clear sign of the deterioration of the Church.
You belong to a Church which led the exodus from Central Travancore to Malabar. Now a similar thing is happening within the Syro-Malabar Church on a different level. So many youngsters are migrating. They are uprooting from their local agrarian culture, even from their faith and getting into big cities and becoming nostalgic about their homeland. In that situation, what is the role of the Mother Church? Are we simply creating some structures as part of the solution to this nostalgia, adopting a fundamentalist Ghar Vapsi attitude?
I believe the exodus experience is part of the Christian life. The Church does not basically have a permanent abode here. So, within the framework of our own faith, there is some room for this exodus experience. Within the Kerala context we know that is happening because of the high density of population and the lack of employment opportunities, it is absolutely necessary for educated youths to go out of the boundaries of the State in search of livelihood. So we need to accept that it is a contextual reality and an absolute necessity for survival. How to assist them is a real but difficult issue? Of course, there is tension between the dominant rites of the locality and the Syro-Malabar Church. The real issue is about bringing up future generations in the culture of the Syro-Malabar Church. Even the people of Kerala are not strictly brought up in the real culture of this Syro-Malabar tradition, which is responsible for people questioning the necessity of creating a new diocese in certain places? They say they are satisfied with the liturgy they are following. The lack of real catechesis in one’s own tradition is the reason for such an attitude. With regard to the nostalgic longing for one’s own ritual identity, it can only be addressed by providing native liturgy at one’s place of residence. But we must be judiciously prudent in handling this issue because of the tension it can create among various religions, among various rites and even among bishops. In certain situations, our affinity to our own traditions can become a wrong witness to the Christian faith.
God tells Abraham as well as Moses to leave their land, home, everything and go to the land God shows them. Is that not an uprooting from land, ethnicity and culture and taking root somewhere else and becoming a part of another culture, ethnicity, clan and community? If one is rooted in Christian values, where is the need of being rooted in a particular culture. Man is always on journey and in that journey always he has to be rooted in relations with other people and those relations are fundamentally based on humanism. Therefore, Christian humanism is what we should be rooted in. Your comment?
Of course, we have to have our own roots. The differentiation between values and being rooted in one’s own tradition is not absolutely valid, because one’s own value system has its origin in one’s own living tradition. For example, the narrative ethics that moral theologians speak of is something that contributes to one’s own value system. So, if I have migrated to the United States, I cannot start a value system at the age of thirty from zero. All I have gained from my Christian culture, my liturgical tradition and my home culture is there, and that is very much the life narrative of my own ethics, which I cannot transcend. We cannot jump out of our skin. Similarly, we cannot think of a radically new starting point of values. So I think we need to take into consideration these nostalgic roots of our own identity.
Wherever I go I have my narration, my story is told and retold, the skin, frame and language of the story change as I go from one place to another. Why not see it that way?
About that I fully agree. I think we need not export the exact replica of our own traditions to the place where we are migrating. Rather, we need to be in full communion and conversation with the narrative character of the particular culture existing locally. Those things must be seriously taken into consideration.
Say something about your life’s journey so far?
I was born on 3 December 1969 as the fifth of seven children of Mr Joseph and Mrs Mary Pamplany. I belong to St Sebastian’s Church, Charal. I had my lower primary school education at St Sebastian’s School, Charal, and upper primary, high school education at St Thomas School, Kilianthara. After having completed my Pre-Degree Course at Nirmalagiri College and graduation from Kerala University, I joined St Joseph’s Minor Seminary, Tellicherry. I completed my philosophical and theological studies at St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye, and was ordained priest on 30 December 1997 by Archbishop George Valiamattam. After ordination I was appointed Assistant Parish Priest at Peravoor, and Parish Priest at Deepagiri Parish. In the year 2001, I was sent to Leuven for higher studies in the Catholic University and obtained a licentiate and a doctorate in Biblical Theology. After the completion of my studies, in the year 2006, I was appointed director of the Bible Apostolate of the Archeparchy of Tellicherry. During that period I launched the Alpha Institute of theology and science. It was meant for conscientizing ordinary people and the religious about theology. We had a tie up with Shalom television network and later with Goodness television network which, enabled this theology study easier for the ordinary people. Our intention was to help people learn theology from their own home without hampering their daily activities. It proved successful in the sense that more than ten thousand students have completed their studies and now almost four thousand are running their theology course at various levels. Last year I was made the Vicar General of the archdiocese. I continued to work as the director of the Alpha Institute as well. Of course, there was another Vicar General with whom I shared my responsibility. I was in charge of educational institutions and pastoral coordination when I was chosen for episcopacy.