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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Are we lost in the shuffle?

And even if not, is it too little too late? or does it matter?

This week's issue of "America" - the Catholic weekly - carried a story that threatens my already fragile sense of identity - or maybe not! It's the story of the Church's attempt to address the problems of the "historic churches of the Middle East" including the Syrian Catholic church.

Wait a minute, did they say 'Syrian Catholic' without mentioning that other (Kerala) Syrian Catholic church? did they forget to include the Syro-Malabar or the Syro-Malankara churches even as they talked of 'historic churches' (see picture below from Wikipedia's entry on same subject)? Yes, and, yes!

Ok, perhaps the issues behind the story did not really relate to anything that might resonate with Kerala Syrian Catholics?

Oh, wait another minute! The issues they are to talk of, are Immigration and Emigration! If anyone has experience of those two topics that would be Keralites indeed! Whether the issue is that of immigration into the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) "where public observance of christianity is prohibited" and so presents a problem, or emigration to host countries like USA, Canada, Australia, Kerala Syrian Catholics have direct and relevant experience of both topics!

So why would the Church not include the Syrian Catholic churches of Kerala (the Syro-Malabar Church or the Syro-Malankara church) in these discussions? Is it perhaps that the Church is not so much interested in tending to the needs of her flock, as much as playing politics in the Middle East??

According to the story emigration puts "their historic communities in jeopardy. When they assimilate in their new countries, they are likely to lose their distinctive historic identities. Even when they remain Catholics, they are likely to join Roman Catholic congregations." You bet it does that - puts their communities in jeopardy - it's been doing that ever since Kerala Syrian Catholics have been migrating outside of their home state of Kerala whether to neighboring states within India or to countries outside. From the loss of their genealogically significant and colorful family names, to the slow mainstreaming of their womenfolk from chatta and mundu of yore to saris and now to the ubiquitous salwaar kameez, or the withering away of songs and hymns and ritual in Syriac, in favor of christmas trees and fruit-cake, Kerala Syrian Catholics in the diaspora in India and abroad, I think, have lost, failed to hand down or be handed down a core sense of Keralite identity, instead assimilating the dress, speech, and rituals of the dominant elements of their host societies.

Whether it's totally a bad thing is debatable - better to lose an atrophied identity and remain a living vibrant tolerant human being, I would say! In some later posts I'll try and document what those losses and gains have been for me on a personal level.

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