St. Chavara- Early life

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Gins C. George

            The chavara were among the respectable and moderately rich families of the locality, Kainakary, which means that from middle class pious and devout Christian family of Kuriakose and Mariam that little Kuriakose was born as their sixth and youngest child, on 10 February 1805. The Chavara family is believed to be the descendant of the Pakalomattam family, one of the four that claim descent from the time of St.Thomas at Palayur, central Kerala. The devout parents had the child baptized on the eight day in their parish church of Chennankari according to the custom prevailing then in the church. The child was given the name of his father, Kuriakose. In due time Kuriakose received the sacrament of conformation as was customary in the church at that time.

            One of the childhood events that which in the chavara is the dedication his loving and pious mother made to the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated in the shrine of Vechoor, near vikom. On September 8th feast of the nativity of our Lady his mother offered him as the slave of the Blessed Mother.. At the age of five, he began his studies in the village school, called Kalari under a village master called Ashan. There he continued his studies until he was ten years old. Then Malpan Fr.Thomas Palackal invited him to his seminary at pallipuram. Subsequently as he was too young he spent about two years in the parish rectory under the care of the zealous and loving parish priest. Here his parents also discerned his divine call.

            In the year 1818 he joined the Pallipuram seminary under the tutelage of Malpan Thomas Palacka. It is noticeable that the most important time for laying the foundation of an individual’s personality, the child chavara formed and grown with full of faith and good behavior. According to chavara the good upbringing was somewhat challenged during his education under a master, who was a Hindu and with companions mostly of other faiths. Kuriakose Eliseus Porukara says about Chavara that “the boy from his childhood so excellent in humility, pleasing manners, modesty, piety, intelligence, eloquence that he was loved by God and men”.

St. Chavara’s Leadership to the Church

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Tomy T. Varghese

St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara considered the Church as his own mother. He was aware of the fact that being truthful and faithful to the Church was essential for salvation. Union with Pope and obedience and acceptance of the authorities appointed by the Pope are important in this regard. The Kerala Church was going through a challenging phase during that time. The ripples of ‘Koonan Cross Oath’ in the middle of seventeenth century which had divided the Church into Pazhayakuttukar (old party) Puthenkuttukar (new party) could be felt with great intensity during the time of Chavara. Kuriakose Elias Chavara defended the Church with valour as a faithful soldier of the Church.

When a schism called, ‘Roccos Schism’ happened in the church of Kerala in 1861, Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara; the then appointed Vicar General of Syro-Malabar Church, took a bold stand against it and saved the church of Kerala from the Schism. On this account, the Holy Father Pope Pius IX sent him a letter expressing his great appreciation.

He started two congregations for priests (CMI) and nuns (CMC), which today have establishments all over the world. They are the first of their kind in India. It made great strides in the spiritual renovation in the Kerala Church. He also started seminaries for the education and formation of clergy at Mannanam in 1833, at Vazakulam in 1866 and at Elthuruth in 1868; introduction of annual retreats for priests and laity; publishing house at Mannanam in 1846 for the propagation of Catholic doctrine and social information; special attention to start catechumenates at Mannaanm in 1853 and with other monasteries, house for the destitute and dying at Kainakary in 1869; reunion movement; Sanskrit School at Mannanam in 1846 and school for the general education at Mannanam in 1865, a school and boarding house exclusively for girls at Koonammavu in 1868 etc. were among the few of various activities under St. Kuriakose Elisa’s leadership.

Thus he focused the area of ministry in (1) Educating the uneducated, (2) Helping them who desire to enter the Catholic fold, (3) Working for the reunion of the separated brethren. (4) Safeguarding the well being of all (5) Aiming at the renewal of the Church and (6) Willing to do all that are seen good for the people of God. In this way he prepared the religious, priests and the laity for the spiritual and social up-lift of the Church and society.

St. Chavara and Priesthood

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Jomon Joseph

            A priest first of all is a baptized man who has heard God calling him to a particular role in the Church – that of ministerial priesthood. After a long period of training he is ordained. Being ordained, or ordination, is a sacrament; that is a special blessing from God which makes an inner change in the man. Another word for this sacrament is ‘Holy Orders’.

            When a man receives Holy Orders, he is configured to Christ, which means that when he carries out his ministerial work he is acting in the power of Christ, and not in his own power. We call this a special grace of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could be described as God’s power, energy and wisdom. In the most profound way possible, ordination creates a new man, one who, if living his vocation (calling) faithfully, can say with St. Paul: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.’ (Galatians 2:20). He is changed not because of what he can do, but because of what he has become. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) describes Holy Orders as ‘The sacrament through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Church until the end of time…’ (CCC 1536).

            ‘Everything a priest does in his ministry flows from what he becomes at his ordination: presiding at Mass, absolving sinners, anointing the sick, proclaiming and explaining the Gospel, giving blessings, and his whole pastoral leadership of building up a local community of faith.. The priest does what he does because of what he is a priest of Jesus Christ. The roles of a catholic priest are there in nature; teach, guide and sanctify. As we look into the life of St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, we can understand that he was a holy priest who had fulfilled all the priestly roles in its fullness and perfection. At the age of 13 in 1818 he entered the seminary at Pallipuram where Malpan Thomas Palackal was the Rector. He was ordained priest on 29th November, 1829 and at Arthunkal and celebrated his First Holy Mass. After the ordination he was engaged for some time in pastoral ministry; however he soon returned to the seminary to teach and also to officiate for the Malpan Thomas Palackal during his absence. He was willing to administer the sacraments especially the anointing of the sick and confession when there was a danger for his own life.

            He was always ready to teach others and he firmly believed that there will be a radically change in the community and society only through the proper education to the younger generation; focusing this he started a school in Mannanam when there was only the higher class was promoted to gain education. His school was open for all irrespective of caste, creed and gender. When he became the vicar general of then the Nasarani Church he ordered to start a school each close with the parish churches.  It reveals his committed attitude towards the goal of priesthood. Above all he was a holy priest who knew the mind of God and the needs of the people and responded towards it in a positive way. So he is loved and respected among the millions of the people in their hearts.