Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: Ahead of his Time

Kuriakose Elias Chavara

It is the second time in less than two months that I write about the Blessed Kuriackos Elias Chavara, who will be declared a Saint, on November 23. He is one of the greatest social reformers of Kerala, whose contributions have, unfortunately, gone unrecognised for reasons like his own aversion to self-glorification and publicity.

Though I first read about Fr Chavara only when Pope John Paul II visited Kottayam on February 8, 1986, and declared him “Blessed”, I never missed an opportunity to read about him. For one reason or another, I always compared the priest from Kerala to William Carey, his contemporary, whose contributions have also gone unrecognised.

Last week when opportunity came my way to address the Kerala Club on the social, cultural and literary contributions of Fr Chavara, I took up the challenge. My recent visits to Kainakari, where he was born on February 10, 1805, and to Mannanam, his karmabhoomi, provided me the perspective required for the task.

I also read his biography in English written by K.C. Chacko and published in 1986, Chavara Achen: Oru Rekha Chithram (A Book of Documentation) and several booklets on various aspects of his life. The book that I liked the most was Sukrutham Smara, edited by my acquaintance Prof Thomas Mathew. It is an anthology of articles on Fr Chavara.

Among the contributors are Dr Sukumar Azhikkode, Prof M.K. Sanu, Prof A. Sreedhara Menon, P. Govinda Pillai, Dr M. Leelavathi, C.P. Sridhar and Prof Mathew Ulakamthara. I found Pillai’s article the most enlightening. He was a Marxist but when it came to praising Fr Chavara’s contributions, he did not show any stinginess.

I found it a mere coincidence that the day before I visited Mannanam, the late Marxist theoretician’s son, M.G. Radhakrishnan, a senior journalist with the India Today group, had visited the place to do a feature on the canonisation process. All this strengthened me to address the Club on Friday last.

One of my resolves was to raise some pertinent questions and answer them to the satisfaction of my audience. Though the power point presentation did not go the way I desired it to go, I thought I would raise those questions here and give the answers.

1. Why is Fr Chavara remembered 143 years after his death on January 3, 1871?
He is remembered for his various contributions to the religious and socio-cultural development of Kerala. He was endowed with exceptional creative and leadership qualities.

2. Why is Fr Chavara considered an educationist?
In the first half of the 19th century, admission to even government schools was denied to children from Dalit and other socially and economically backward communities. Fr Chavara set up schools where admission to students, irrespective of caste, creed and status, was guaranteed.

3. What did he do to promote girls’ education?
Fr Chavara realised that if a girl was educated, a whole family would be educated. He provided educational facilities to girls.

4. Was Fr Chavara the first to introduce mid-day meals in schools?
It was in the first decade of the 21st century that on the orders of the Supreme Court, the government introduced a mid-day meal scheme in government schools. One and a half century before this, Fr Chavara provided food to students from poor families because he believed that good food was a must for the intellectual and physical growth of children.

5. What else did Fr Chavara do for school children?
He also supplied free books, slates and clothes to needy children. Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, as Diwan of Travancore, quoted such practices while preparing a note to the Maharaja on the need to universalise primary education.

6. Was Fr Chavara the progenitor of the Pallikoodam movement?
The Malayalam word for school is “pallikoodam”, which means a hut attached to the church. Though CMS missionaries had started several schools attached to their churches, Fr Chavara gave a new direction to the pallikoodam movement. As Vicar General, he issued a circular in which he made it mandatory for every church to have a school attached to it. In fact, he even threatened that no church without a school would be consecrated. Soon, hundreds of new schools sprouted in the state.

7. Was Fr Chavara the founder of the homes for the poor and the homeless?
He set up India’s first home for the poor at Kainakari, which continues to this day. He gave a written instruction on how funds should be collected to run such homes, which were meant for the destitute. In his own life time, he set up several such homes.

8. Was he the first to start a Sanskrit school?
Until Fr Chavara arrived on the scene, Sanskrit was more or less the preserve of some. He started a school where he employed a Brahmin from Trichur to teach Sanskrit. The students of his seminary were taught Sanskrit. He himself was a life-long student of Sanskrit. He knew the Hindu scriptures so well that he used them to develop his own theological writing.

9. Was Fr Chavara a secularist?
He was a deeply religious person. As such, he was not secular as it is understood today. His aim was not to convert more and more people to Christianity or “Churchianity”. His aim was to take the message of Christ into the minds of more and more people.
His plan was to set up his centre at Pullarikunnu in Mannanam. But when a section of the people protested that the hill to which the presiding deity of a local temple constantly gazed was inappropriate, he changed his plan and found another hill where a whole lot of establishments, including a college, are now situated. 

10. How did Fr Chavara build so many institutions?
He built several institutions at several places in his life time. He collected money from ordinary people. He was able to instil confidence among the people. They contributed liberally to him and they included Hindus and Muslims too. He also paid the highest wages to his workers.

11. Was Fr Chavara an architect?
He did not study architecture but he built Kerala’s first double-storied building at Mannanam. Again, his seminary at Mannanam was Kerala’s biggest building at that time.

12. Was Fr Chavara the father of Malayalam journalism?
The fist two printing presses in Kerala were at Kottayam and Thiruvananthapuram. The former belonged to the CMS missionaries while the latter belonged to the government. He wanted to start his own printing press but the authorities of the Kottayam press did not allow him to even see the press. He managed to see the government press with the help of a Catholic employee there.

It is said that Fr Chavara saw the press, copied it in his mind and made a model using a banana stem. Then, with the help of a carpenter, he built a wooden press. He had to pay Rs 6000, a princely sum those days, to import paper and ink required for printing. It was on this press that the first issue of Nasrani Deepika was printed. And it was from this paper that the present-day Malayalam daily Deepika descended. 

13. How was Fr Chavara different from reformers like Abraham Malpan and Martin Luther?
Unlike the two who left their mother churches to form their own churches, Fr Chavara reformed the Catholic Church by maintaining steadfast loyalty to the Pope. In this respect, he was like Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556). 

14. What are his contributions to the church?
When a schism happened in the church in Kerala, he took a bold stand against a foreign usurper but for which most of the Catholic churches in Kerala would have gone out of control of the Vatican. He also brought hundreds of churches back to the Catholic fold.

He set up the first seminary for the whole Catholic church in what is now Kerala. He also started two congregations for priests and nuns, which today have establishments all over the world. They are the first of their kind in India. He brought about ecumenism in the church.

15. Was Fr Chavara the first playwright?
Yes, he was. The first Indian drama is Neeldarpan, written in Bengali by Deenbandhu Mishra on the miseries of the indigo cultivators. It was published in 1860. The first Malayalam play is considered Abhinjana Shakuntalam, translated into Malayalam by Kerala Verma Valiakovil Thampuran in 1882. Decades before that, Fr Chavara had written as many as 10 eclogues or liturgical dramas. Unlike in the case of Abhinjana Shakuntalam, which was staged several decades later, the eclogues were staged by the students of Fr Chavara’s seminary. So, he can be considered the father of Malayalam drama.

16. Why are Fr Chavara’s teachings famous?

His teachings are based on practical knowledge. He advised people against entering into marital relations with people who are irreligious. He had the foresight to warn parents against sending their children to relatives’ homes for stay. He said the parents should ensure that they did not return with unclean mind and body.

17. Was Fr Chavara’s Anasthasyayude Raktasakshithvam (The Martyrdom of Anasthasya) the first khandakavyam (a short poetic work) in Malayalam?
The first complete short poem in Malayalam was considered to be A.R. Rajaraja Varma’s Malayavilasam, written in 1895. Fr Chavara’s Anasthasya’s Martyrdom appeared three decades before in 1862. I have read parts of the poem and they are exceptionally good. The language is simple and lyrical. True, I am not competent to judge the poem but those who have read it like Sooranattu Kunjan Pillai, Sachidanandan, Guru Nityachaitanyati and Dr P.V. Velayudhan Pillai are ready to concede the point that the work is comparable to Kumaran Asan’s Karuna, Vallathol’s Magdalana Mariam and Ulloor’s Pingala. Let me make bold to say that he was the father of Malayalam short poems.

18. Was Fr Chavara a single-book wonder?
No, he wrote several books, both in prose and poetry. His longest poetical work is Atmanutapam which, too, I found very appealing. He is one of the first major prose writers of Malayalam. It can be inferred from his writing that he tried to liberate Malayalam from the excessive influence of Sanskrit. He also ensured that the books reached the masses.

19. Was Fr Chavara a multi-linguist?
Yes, he knew Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit and Latin. Towards the end of his life, he also learnt Portuguese. One regret he had was that he could not learn Spanish, the language in which Saint Teresa of Avila communicated with God.

20. Who was the first Indian to be beatified?
Fr Chavara was the first to be beatified. Yet, he was overtaken by Saint Alphonsa, who had given a moving account of how Fr Chavara intervened in her life and saved her from the rigours of an illness. He was the first priest in whose honour the Indian Postal Department released a stamp. It was President R.Venkataraman who released the stamp and the first-day cover in 1987.

21. What is Prior mango?
It is a variety of mango which Fr Chavara popularised. It is now named after the priest who was endearingly called “Prior”. Incidentally, William Carey had a species of tree named after him.
All this makes Fr Chavara a unique personality. Yet, he has not received the recognition and attention his memory deserves. I am glad that more and more people will come forward to recognise him as a cultural leader of Kerala. Prof Omchery NN Pillai has declared that his picture will be unveiled at Kerala Club. The Kerala Sahitya Akademi has his portrait at its Thrisoor office.
My wife and I had the unique honour of holding in our hands two sacred remains of Fr Chavara, a small casket containing a piece of his hair and a piece of lead on which his name was written when his body was interred. I am really glad that I got a forum like the Kerala Club to pay tribute to one of India’s greatest reformers who should be ranked along with Rajaram Mohun Roy, Sri Narayana Guru, Ayyankali and Jyotirao Phule.

(We thank Mr. A J Philip for his kind gesture for allowing us to reproduce this article. The writer can be reached at ajphilip@gmail.com)

Friday, 28 December 2012

Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara: On the Way to Sainthood




Kuriakose Elias Chavara was a unique blend of a social and spiritual revolutionary whose contribution to the society in Kerala and the Catholic Church is immense. He was a visionary who initiated reforms in the Church as well as in the society. From being the founder of the first Indian religious congregation, Carmelites of Mary Immaculate to establishing a sanskrit school for students of all castes in a predominantly caste ridden society, Kuriakose Elias Chavara was man of faith in action.

Witness to Chavara's Holiness during his Lifetime
The Tahshildar of Meenachil once said about Kuriakose Elias Chavara, “Those who complained against such a great man, a person endowed with divine grace, were very bad people and reserved the anger of God.”  He was not the lone figure who recognized the saintliness of Chavara. At the sight of this holy person, ordinary people used to say, “Here goes the man of God.” During his life time people from all walks of life adorned recognized his greatness by calling him, ‘Servant of God,’ ‘Divine person,’ ‘man of divine vision’ etc…

After the Death of Chavara
Two biographies of Kuriakose Elias Chavara were written after his death in 1871. They were written by his confessor and spiritual director Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD and his successor Fr. Kuriakose Porukara.  Being well aware of the fact that Chavara was a saint, Fr. Leopold distributed the copy of the last testament along with his cassock, dress etc and asked the monasteries to cherish them as sacred relics of their holy founder. Fr. Leopold wrote in his diary on the day of Chavara’s death, ‘O beautiful and holy soul pray for me.’It  was he who took the initiative to start the process of canonization but he had to leave Kerala as a result of a conflict with the Vicar Apostolic Mellano.

It is also notable that the St. Thomas Christians had sent petitions to Pope Pius IX extolling the moral authority, prudence etc. of Chavara Kuriakose. Written in popular poetic style, the purathana pattukal portrays the greatness of Chavara’s holiness which was well known to the people of Kainakari.

Servant of God, Venerable and Blessed
The CMI congregation, still in its early years of growth could not take forward the cause of Chavara Kuriakose. The turning point was when Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, the then prefect of Oriental Churches visited Kerala in 1953 and is said to have advised Fr. Maurus Valiyaparampil to begin the process for Canonization. The process gained momentum with the Congregation for oriental Churches introducing the cause of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and authorized the Bishop of Changanaserry, Mar Mathew Kavukatt to institute the informative process on the life and virtues of Chavara. Fr. Placid Padiapara CMI was appointed  the postulator and Fr. Maurilius Kakkanatt CMI was the vice postulator at Mannanam. From the time the cause was introduced in diocesan curia in 1955, Kuriakose Elias Chavara was called ‘Servant of God.’

A Position or a position document describing the introduction of the cause and virtues of the servant of God Kuriakos Elias Chavara was prepared. The work on position was completed in 1977 and was submitted to the consultants whose response can be either positive, negative or reserved. The response was indeed positive and Pope John Paul II after being informed of the findings, ordered to prepare a decree, the conclusion of which reads, ‘It is evident that the Servant of God Cyriac Elias Chavara practiced the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity towards God and towards brethren  and also the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude and those connected with the same, in a heroic degree, in case and for the effect in question.’ The decree of the heroic virtues was promulgated in 1984 and from then he was called ‘Venerable.’

The cure of a six year old boy, Joseph Mathew Pennaparampil, who was born with a club feet was accepted as the miracle needed for the beatification. On 8 February 1985, Pope John Paul II in his visit to India to India declared Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Alphonsa Muttathupadathu blessed.

The Kerala Church and especially CMI congregation are prayerfully waiting for the moment when Kuriakose Elias Chavara will be declared a saint.



Kuriakose Elias Chavara of Happy Memories





The saintly Kuriakose Elias Chavara had a profound understanding of death. His reflections on death were in tune with the theology and spirituality of his times which could very well be seen in the frightening and fearful picture which he shares through his writings. But he optimistically prescribes various means to safely sail across the troubled ocean to reach the Promised Land.  He looks up to Blessed Virgin Mary ‘as the strong vessel, strong enough to resist the tempest of the sea, which gives guarantee of safety and protection to passengers’ and St. Joseph as ‘the sailor who is familiar with the route and who would safely bring the passengers to a safe landing.  ‘The Confraternity of Happy Death’ of St. Joseph, +the patron of happy death was established by Kuriakose Elias and requested people to join so that they could confidently face death and reach heaven. He concludes a letter written to parishioners in Kainakary with the following words, “Each month, on this particular day read this and say the following ejaculatory prayer: “Lord accept the soul of this your servant in the home of the just.” This is my only request to you.

Toward the end of 1870, Chavara Kuriakose Elias knew that he was inching closer to death.  As Kuriakose Porukara writes, “As the Prior was aware by a special intuition the approach of his death, he was continuously preparing for a happy death.” In many of the churches which Kuriakose Elias preached in 1870’s he stated that this would be his last sermon and also repeated the same to the priests who had assembled for retreat. Even during the difficult times of his life, he was very particular in celebrating mass at 5:00 am and relied greatly on the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

He lost his eye sight during the last three months of this life on earth but instead of becoming irritated or sorrowful, he remained pleasant with a smile on his face. He suffered a lot during the last three days before his death.  On 2 January 1871, he made his last confession to Fr. Leopold and received Holy Communion. He told the members who were standing near his death bead, ‘Why are you weeping? Man, whoever he be, has to die one day. Now it is my time. For a few days, I was preparing myself as far as possible.” Then he revealed the secret which he hid from everyone , “By the grace of God I dare to say that with their help never had I an occasion to be deprived of the grace received in baptism.” After Fr. Joseph John of the Cross, the vicar of the Monastery of Koonammavu administered the sacrament, Kuriakose Elias Chavara blessed all the members who were present. When Fr. Leopold asked, “Father, how are you now? Are you happy? Are you peaceful at heart?” He replied, “Father, now I have peace and joy.” These were his last words and he lost his consciousness. On January 3, 1871, at 7:15 in the morning Kuriakose Elias Chavara breathed his last.

The funeral was held on 4 January, 1871. The funeral mass was celebrated by Fr. John of the Cross, the vicar, the sermon was preached by Fr. Mathai Kappil and Fr Kuriakose Eliseus Porukara conducted the funeral services. Fr. Valerian writes that ‘according to eyewitnesses the rush of people was such that it filled over the precincts of the church. During the funeral speech Fr. Mathai Kappil said, “Today the flag of Kerala has fallen.’ Then the bells rang and people burst out in loud cries.  Kuriakose Elias Chavara was laid to rest at St. Philomena’s monastery Church, Koonammavu. When this church was handed over to Latinites after the creation of Thrissur and Kottayam vicariates, the relics of Chavara was transferred from Konnammavu to Mannanam on 24 May 1899.  

Karmayogi: The Personality of Kuriakose Elias Chavara



The greatness of the personality of Chavara is reflected in the words of many of his contemporaries like Fr. Mathai Mariam Kappil, Mathai Mariam Palakkunnel, Bishop Louis Pazheparampil, etc. Many of the lay persons as well as historical writers could recognize the importance of the personality of Chavara and his contributions as relevant to all times and people.  The attribute ‘karma-yogi’ given by Prof. P. T. Thomas gives a clear idea of the towering personality of Chavara.

Prophetic Vision and Mission of Chavara
The continuous changes that happen in the society are the result of the one who has the sense of history, who knows the present condition and having a vision for the future.  Chavara is one among these visionaries who changed society.  The Chaldean leadership was not that much acceptable and pleasing to the indigenous group in Kerala.  In the 16th century, with the coming of the Portuguese, the Latin influence and dominance destroyed the unity and autonomy of the Indian church of St. Thomas Christians.  The Christians of St. Thomas wanted to have co-existence with the Portuguese, but they were for absorption, which resulted in conflicts.  Chavara as well as the Malpans had a conviction that no good can be expected from the Chaldean Church by re-linking Kerala Church with it.  One of the basic problems Chavara could understand is that of language, the difference in language used and known by the priests and bishops.  So to say, the condition of Kerala Church was that people were looking for a normal state; but the situation was entirely different, headed by one from different Rite, using Latin language and Rites for rituals and so on.
            The solution, Chavara could give was to get a few missionaries from Europe, who were ready to study Syrian language and to adapt Syro-Malabar Rite and later to make one among them as the head of the Church in Kerala.  Later Chavara wrote to Prefect of the Propagande Congregation, for two bishops: one for the Latin Church and another for Syrian Church, so that the wish of the people for bishop from their own rite will be satisfied and they will get united.  This request could influence many of the decisions of Rome during that time.
            Chavara along with Malpans started with the reforms to bring back the community to right track.  One of the steps for the reform was starting of the religious life in 1831 at Mannanam for men and one in 1866 for women.  Another area was the reform of the clergy in Kerala; training of the seminarians, giving retreats, making available spiritual books etc.  He introduced several schemes for the general renewal of Christian life, started schools and printing presses and contributed a lot to the literature too.
Humane Personality
            Chavara was a garden of virtues, so that he was loved and respected by all, his students, priests, bishops and lay people.  All considered him equal to a bishop.  He enjoyed the company of all, with no age or status difference.  His knowledge in different languages helped a lot in his ministries, teaching seminarians, liturgical compositions etc.  He also had an in depth knowledge in theology and Bible, which he could make use for the preaching and retreats.
Moral Dimension of Chavara’s Personality
            Chavara was accurate in all his accounts and was just to all.  He was very keen to see only the good in others.  Chavara was a prudent person in making decision and doing things, but he was ready to seek and accept advice from elderly persons.  When he had to correct others he was conscious not to offend them.  His foresight is evident in making funds for all the charitable activities that he started.  In solving problems and in dealing with the people involved in such things, Chavara was very prudent.  He professed a fourth vow, vow of humility, and was humble in all his words and deeds.
 He believed that all that he had were the gifts from God and he thanked God for all the blessings he received from birth till the day of last breath.  He expressed his faith in the Holy Catholic Church in all his activities.  He showed great trust in God’s providence.  He was a true devotee of Blessed Virgin Mary.  His love to God was out bursting in charity to the needy.  Through love towards the brethren and even to the people who offended him, he could prove that he really loves God.  He had great zeal for the souls, which he expressed through preaching, pastoral activities, writing good books etc.
            Chavara led a poor life, trusting in the providence of God, even when a number of projects he started without any fund in his hands.  He was very careful in the virtue of chastity.  According to him one who shows obedience to superiors and subordinates will be able to enjoy heavenly peace, making a mini-heaven around him.
 The true name that can be given to Chavara is ‘karma-yogi’, ‘a contemplative in action’, one who lived for others, out of love of God, along with this he made an intense prayer life too.  His prayer life which was started in childhood itself was properly brought up as he passed through different stages of life.  In the case of the congregation when started, it was following the Dominican way, contemplata praedicare (preach what has been meditated upon).  But in 1855 Carmelite spirituality was accepted and followed, a combination of both and gave roots in eastern, Carmelite and Indian spirituality.  Chavara considered this new face as that God willed, not because man planned.
 During the time of meditation, others could see him on knees, shedding tears for the whole time.  Chavara was influenced by St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and he could go up in the levels of prayer experience.  He considered God as his Father and placed himself as His son in prayers and life.  Another specialty of his prayer life was the compunction of heart; he repented for the childhood follies and expressed gratitude for all the blessings God showered in his life.
Chavara spirituality is revealed through his spiritual compositions such as Martyrdom of Anastasia, Dhyanasallapangal, Atmanutapam, Parvam and other letters.  Most distinctive characteristic of his spirituality is the longing for the vision of God, the intense desire to see God.  His devotion to Holy Family is clear in adding a phrase “of the Holy Family” along with his name on the day of religious profession.  In his spirituality he considered the first and second persons of Holy Trinity and St. Joseph as father figures and makes prayers accordingly.  Similarly, he considered Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Theresa of Avila, the Holy Catholic Church and his own congregation as mother figures.  In his spirituality, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament can never be neglected.  He himself says that he wishes to be locked in the tabernacle with Jesus.
 His spiritual life is based on a family relationship.  As pointed out there are father figures and mother figures.  He considers himself as a prodigal son returning to his Father with repentance.  The rest of the humanity consists of his brothers and sisters.  With some members of the family, he has got more intimacy, since they are also of the same state as that of his.  Towards his spiritual children he has a paternal love too.  He extended his family relationship even to those who are in purgatory and prayed specially for them and reminded others to do so.
To conclude, the name karma-yogi is an apt name that reflects the towering personality of Blessed Chavara.  The great visionary and missionary in Chavara was a God-given gift for the whole Church, especially for the congregation.  He was an inspiration for the people of his time as well as the people who lived and lives years after.  He was a beacon of light who led people to Christ by becoming another Christ in his personality.  

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: A Faithful Defender of the Church




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.

The Roccos Affair
The people of Kerala were dejected of being under the foreign rule and there was a strong demand for a Bishop of their own rite. Bishop Roccos arrived in Kerala on May 9, 1861.  Even though he arrived unlawfully, the real fact was hidden from people.  He received a grand reception by Syrian Churches. Very soon majority of the Churches in Kerala stood behind Bishop Roccos. This unlawful Bishop and his companions caused a Schism like situation  in the Kerala Church. It is known as ‘Roccos Schism’ in the history and Kuriakose Elias Chavara had qualified it as ‘religious rebellion’ (vedakalapam).

Roccos and his companions travelled far and wide in Kerala with the support of Antony Thondanat and others and enjoyed the support of majority of the Churches. To be specific 86 churches fully supported Roccos and in 36 churches there were both groups. It was a natural response of the people who were reeling under the yoke of unmindful latinization by the missionaries and the Bishops and the requests for a native bishop fell in deaf ears.

The situation was alarming. Inorder to counter Roccos, on June 8, 1861, the Authorities of Verapoly officially appointed Fr.Kuriakose as the Vicar General of Verapoly of all the Syrian Catholics of Kerala. Kuriakose Elias was a champion of faith who even renounced an offer to be made bishop by the Roccos group. On hearing about this offer, he said, “My desire is not to be made a bishop, but to save my soul.” Fr. Chavara sent a circular to priests and laity asking them to refrain from encouraging the attempts of Roccos. The circular was strongly worded asking the faithful even ‘to be prepared to die at their hands in defense of unity of the Church.’

Kuriakose Elias had written to Vatican asking clarification for the legitimacy of Bishop Roccos arrival. The letter from the Pope praised Chavara for his zeal and devotion and expressed great regard for the act of approaching the Holy See in such a critical situation to discern the truth. The letter clearly stated that Roccos came to Kerala without the knowledge of the Pope.

Being aware of the letter from the Pope, Bishop Roccos had made up his mind to return; but his supporters  opposed it especially his followers like Avira Parayi didn't allow him to leave .  On 28 December 1861, Roccos was solemnly excommunicated. With much difficulty, the excommunication order was handed over to Roccos by Fr. Mathai Mariam Kappil, vicar of Koonammavu monastery.  He went around Kerala without showing any sign of repentance. But a second letter from the Patriarch reached Roccos which asked him to return back. He fell ill and was treated in Kochi. Roccos had a change of heart and was expressed in a letter to Vicar Apostolic. Vicar Apostolic entrusted Kuriakose Elias with the responsibility of hearing the confession, withdrawing excommunication on certain conditions and making arrangements for the Roccos travel. Even though the situation was volatile, Kuriakose Elias handled it well and Roccos was sent back to Mosul in a ship from Kochi.

From trying to bring together the separated faction which came to existence post Coonan Cross Oath to dealing with challenges from people like Antony Thondanatt, Antony Kudakkachira, Deneha bar Jona, Kuriakose Elias led from the front and ensured that unity of the Church of Christ in Kerala remained intact.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara: Founder of CMC Congregation





“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing,” said Swami Vivekananda. Keralite women, being sidelined, were craving for a change in social attitude towards them and come to the mainstream. Rightly analyzing that women’s education was the ultimate means in this equalization process, western missionaries were in forefront in bringing about change. Kuriakose Elias Chavara too felt that a new religious congregation for women would be game changer for women in Kerala both socially and spiritually.

Kuriakose Elias Chavara founded the Congregation of Mother of Carmel (CMC) along with an Italian missionary Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD on 13th February, 1866. The dream of starting a religious congregation of women was something which Fr. Chavara had been praying for long. While recollecting the day Fr. Leopold shared this idea, Chavara writes, “It seems that God has been pleased to fulfill something which seems difficult and for which I have been praying for long. In 1865, Rev. Leopold took me out for an evening walk… (and told me)..here there is a widow and her fourteen year old daughter. The girl is heiress to half the property of her father. She does not like to get married. Why not separate them from their home and accommodate them in a new house to be built on their own property, a little removed from the family house? Here other girls in like situation may be trained in handicrafts and virtuous ascetic life to become nuns.”

The permission to begin the congregation was granted by the Archbishop Bernadine OCD and treated them as third order of Carmelite nuns. The building of the first convent was not an easy task as contributions had dried up. But with the little they got a building was made, in the words of Chavara, “it was built of coconut tree and bamboo mats. It was divided into a prayer hall, a dining room and three other rooms.” It was with unconditional trust in the Lord that Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Leopold Beccaro started the first indigenous women’s congregation in India with four members namely Eliswa-a widow, her daughter Anna, her sister Teresa, and another young lady named Clara.

But the early life of sisters was challenging. Fr. Chavara writes, ‘The life of sisters in the present structure was very pitiable. Because it was made of fresh bamboos, bamboo mats that were not yet dry and unprocessed tender coconut logs, they fall easy victims to moths and termites. Hence there was need to construct a stronger and permanent building.’ To make a new building, initiatives like families setting apart ‘a handful of rice’ (pidiyari) everyday while preparing a meal for building a new convent were taken up. Priest even went around to various churches to collect money and even priests were contacted through letters to get contributions. The foundation stone was laid for the convent on 13th June 1866 and on April 27th 1867 sisters were shifted to a new convent in Koonamavvu.

This religious congregation for women branched off into Congregation of Mother Carmel (CMC) in the Oriental rite and Congregation of Teresian Carmelites (CTC) in the Latin rite. This religious congregation played a significant role in giving a new face to women upliftment. Taking women from the confines of homes and giving training, employing them in cottage industries, giving them education, ensuring spiritual growth, the Carmelite women congregation’s contribution to women and the Church in Kerala is immense.


The Birth of CMI Congregation and Kuriakose Elias Chavara





From Hindu rishis to Buddhist Monastics, India is a land blessed with the sages from time immemorial. Even though traces of Catholic monasticism could be seen in India, they didn’t stand the test of time. It needed Fr. Thomas Porkura, Fr. Thomas Palackal, Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Bro. Jacob Kaniyanthara to begin an indigenous religious congregation which would play an important role in the growth of St. Thomas Christians in India.

The desire of the founding fathers was to lead a spiritual monastic life completely cutting themselves off from the affairs of the world. On communicating this idea to Msgr. Stabilini, the vicar apostolic, he was taken by surprise and shot back, ‘If erudite and educated priests like you retreat to forests for your own spiritual well being who will take care of the faithful?” He then asked them to start a monastery so that they could strive for their own spiritual growth together with working for the social, moral and spiritual advancement of brethren.

Unlike Europe, where monasteries were generously funded by Kings, establishing a monastery in Kerala was not an easy task. But Bishop Stabilini was confident that the generous Christians in Kerala would support this noble venture. He issued a letter asking people to contribute and himself gave Rs. 200 toward establishing the monastery. The permission to start the monastery was granted in 1829. After going around Kerala searching for a suitable place, the founding fathers zeroed in on Mannanam Hill. It was high enough and at the foot of it was water which would mean easy accessibility. Thus it was the ideal place for prayer/contemplation and also to serve the people.

The foundation stone of the monastery was laid on 11 May 1831. After a few weeks the Chapel was completed and blessed. Fr. Thomas Porukara and Chavara continuously resided in Mannanam from then on and Fr. Palackal, the Malpan was commuting between Pallipuram and Mannanam. Fr. Kuriakose Porukara write about the way the founding fathers lead the religious life, “As soon as they had achieved their intention in some measure, the fire that was burning in their heart began to emit rays of piety. Personal prayers, meditations, fasting, vigils, the very long Hudra [Canonical Prayer], the prayers of the three day fast, Raza [solemn liturgy] on Sunday and feast days, sung masses and sermons on special feasts- this was their routine….How wonderful it appears when we think of their spirit of poverty, eating very frugal meals, sleeping least comfortable.” A seminary too was started along with monastery to train both diocesan and religious priests. In 1844, Fr. Thomas Porukara and Kuriakose Elias Chavara were appointed Malpans by the Vicar Apostolic Francis Xavier Pescetto.

Fr. Thomas Palackal and Fr. Thomas Porukara passed away in 1841 and 1844 respectively. It was a testing time of the leadership of Kurikose Elias Chavara. But he successfully passed this test of fire by beautifully blending prayer and activities. With the religious profession of the first batch of eleven priests headed by Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara on 8th December 1855, the religious community in Mannanam became a canonically recognized religious congregation. Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara was the first Prior General of the Congregation. The visionary leadership of Kuriakose Elias made sure that new religious congregation contributed to the social upliftment of the Keralite society and spiritual renewal of the St. Thomas Christians.

When Kuriakose Elias Chavara went back to the eternal abode on 3rd January 1871, he had established seven new monasteries besides Mannanam. They are Konnammavu (1857), Elthurth (1858), Plasanal (1858), Vazhakulam (1859), Pulincunnu (1861), Ampazhakad (1868),    Mutholi (1869).