Bp Philipose Mar Stephanos
Diocese of the United States and Canada
When is the installation of your new ministry in the United States and Canada scheduled for?
October 28th is the proposed date of installation. It is yet to be finalized.
How many Catholics do you have in the United States and in Canada?
I am not sure about the statistics. There may be approximately twelve thousand Malankara Catholics in the two countries. I was not expecting this transfer. When the proposal was mooted, I was a little reluctant to take it up. I never keenly followed what was happening there. I had no particular fascination for the United States or Canada.
Do you have apprehensions about the ministry there?
I have apprehensions because of my personal limitations. Because of the extensiveness and complexities of the land and climatic variations I feel I may not be able to respond as I would wish to the requirements there.
I had been there to preach retreat for Malankara priests. I was highly impressed by the Malankara Catholic community there. I found them to be very affectionate, very ecclesial and regular at attending the Holy Mass and other Church functions. That being the case, why should you be apprehensive?
Well, I am not apprehensive about the people; I am only apprehensive about myself and my health. I know that people there are very affectionate, very cooperative and very generous. This is true not only of those in the United States but also of those in the Gulf countries and in northern India. Our migrants are supporting the Church and are feeding our priests.
Catholics all over the United States and Canada, whether they belong to Malankara Church or Syro-Malabar Church, are very much Church oriented, but do you expect that to continue after one or two generations?
I am quite hopeful that the younger generation will remain close to the Church if we accompany them in the right way.
What do you mean by accompanying?
It means accompaniment in faith formation. If you are accompanying families, guiding families, praying with families, remaining in touch with families, giving real genuine pastoral intimacy with the people as Pope Francis means when he says about being a pastor of the families, being a pastor of the people by sharing their joys and sorrows, their anxieties and worries, their dreams and aspirations, it will naturally provide the Church a place in the family of all generations. The Church is preaching the messages of love, compassion, salvation, forgiveness, and this message is timeless.
At the same time, we are witnessing the demise of the Church in continental Europe. It is so evident in Germany, France and other European countries. Is not the same happening in the United States and in Canada?
There is the point in what you said. We have to learn lessons from Europe. We have to learn lessons from the Post-Vatican developments and thinking that happened in the churches, especially in the Western Church. The Church in the west is very secularized. Earlier there was so much of clericalism and professionalism. The professionalism that characterised the way they dealt with the people did not contribute to the mission of the Church in Europe. So we have to employ a new paradigm in our approaches, in our perspectives and in all our missionary programs.
You have correctly analysed what happened in Europe. But it doesn’t mean there is no more faith existing there. It really means that the structures of the Church are no more becoming relevant to the people and therefore we have to invent some other models and paradigms. Are we capable of doing that now?
My perspective is that by the grace of God we have inherited a wonderful institutional structure, which could be re-modelled and re-activated to meet the challenges of the present time. We don’t have to abolish it. We can re-structure and re-model it. We can avail of, utilize and develop those material and personal infrastructures, institutional network to new forms of ministry, new forms of reaching out to people, new forms of evangelization, new forms of missionary pastoral care and so on.
There is a lot of bureaucratic control in the Church. Do you think people in general and the Christian community in particular are becoming wary of them?
Bureaucracy in the pejorative sense is always a sin. But bureaucracy could be spiritualized and humanized. The purpose of bureaucracy is to fulfil the mission of the Church. As long as it supports and facilitates that, it can be useful. Otherwise it will be seen as corruption and counter-witness.
There are people who say spirituality, morality and holiness that are demanded by the gospel does not go well along with the institutional aspirations of the Church. Is that true?
When institutional and bureaucratic structures are not complimentary and tuned to the mission of the Church, they are useless and a counter-witness. They have to be, I would say more radically, done away with.
Our missionary work, pastoral work or caring for the souls of the faithful is primarily done by priests and religious people. Now-a-days there is a lot of idealism and spirituality which are both demanded and claimed by the people. Do you think priesthood and religious life are facing a crisis of not being rooted in the evangelical values of life?
My perception is that priests and religious, including bishops, are facing greater challenges now. These are not crises but challenges. Encountering and Responding proactively in facing these challenges and the high idealism and expectation of the people is often a frustrating and disappointing experience. Therefore it calls for ongoing renewal, ongoing rededication, ongoing commitment and ongoing journey in our spiritual life to renew ourselves in fulfilling our mission and to be faithful to our vocation, either as clergy or as religious.
Do you think that, in that respect our seminaries and our formation centres are capable of bringing out dedicated and spiritually oriented priests and religious?
From my experience associated with academic programmes in seminaries I am convinced that the Catholic Church has got an excellent syllabus for them. But it has to be combined with personal spirituality, personal experience, pastoral needs and challenges. In that sense we have to incorporate more the personal dimension, pastoral dimension and existential dimension in the academic and pastoral training program of seminaries.
What are your hopes of Episcopal ministry in the new ecclesiastical territory assigned to you?
My motto would be “Thy Kingdom Come.” I wish and pray that I may be able to fulfil this experience of the Kingdom of God within myself and have the joy of sharing it as I work and exercise Episcopal leadership within the Malankara Church to fulfil the mission of preaching the Kingdom of God in individuals, families and in the wider society.