Missionary Society of St Thomas (MST) is one of the most cherished pastoral projects of Mar Sebastian Vayalil, the first Bishop of Palai. Though there may be several founding members, there is only one founder: Mar Sebastian Vayalil of happy memory, a great visionary who accomplished a historical mission. He was well aware of the missionary character that the Syro-Malabar Church had ever maintained and which flourished during the latter half of the twentieth century. This Church during nineteen fifties, sixties and seventies sent a number of missionaries to the Latin dioceses outside Kerala. The eparchy of Palai was one of the eparchies that sent the most number of missionaries.
Having reflected this overflow of missionaries from the Syro-Malabar Church, the question arose why this church cannot have its own missionary activities. As a result of this reflection the MST was born. Ever since its inception, the Society has contributed a lot to the growth of the missionary vision in the SyroMalabar Church. Not only the activities of the MST but also the missionary witness of the Eparchy of Ujjain are worthy of mention in this context.
I am glad to say that the MST, through its three mission regions, St. Paul’s Region in Ujjain, St. Thomas Region in Mandya, St. Alphonsa Region in Sangli and one delegation in Delhi, has contributed considerably in the fields of evangelization, pastoral care, general education, special education, health care, empowerment of the differently abled, rehabilitation and so on. MST carries out its mission through these various apostolic activities in view of creating a harmonious, value based society, transforming the society to establish the Kingdom of God.
By sending so many missionaries to different parts of India and abroad, the Missionary Society has always been and is still in the forefront by providing pastoral care to the Syro-Malabar migrant communities. I gratefully acknowledge the effective and active leadership that Bishop Sebastian Vadakel MST is giving to the Commission for Evangelization and Pastoral Care of the Migrants, as its present Chairman. MST collaborates very actively also with the various eparchies in and outside Kerala by lending services of its priests. Furthermore, the Major Archiepiscopal Curia too gets the service of the MST fathers in different ways. Presently Fr Joseph Pulavelil is serving as Secretary to Bishop Raphael Thattil, the Apostolic Visitator for India and in this capacity he is also coordinating the Syro-Malabar mission activities.
In this context we must be aware that our Church is not yet fully granted with the rightful provisions the Second Vatican Council had envisaged fifty three years ago. Even though the Council Fathers taught, “Means should be taken therefore in every part of the world for the protection and advancement of all the individual Churches and, to this end, there should be established parishes and a special hierarchy where the spiritual good of the faithful demands it” (OE, 4), we know well that there are still a number of places in various parts of India and in the Gulf Countries, where our migrant faithful are not well provided with the pastoral care with proper jurisdiction of our own Church sui iuris. Right from the very beginning MST missionaries, by giving due priority, had been actively engaged in the field of school education. A good number of the schools in the Eparchy of Ujjain were started by the MST priests who were also instrumental in starting schools in many other dioceses. Now the Society has its own educational institutions as well as many non- formal education centres in the missions. MST’s educational apostolate is now active in the African country of Tanzania too.
The contributions of this Society of priests in the social field are praiseworthy. Care and rehabilitation of the differently abled persons, rehabilitation of the HIV/AIDS affected and infected people and their families, medical and psychological support to the mentally ill, family counselling, child centred activities, old age homes, providing food to the needy, shelter to the homeless are some of the important ministries that the MST carries out in view of creating a harmonious and value based society. I now recollect my visit to the Sangli Mission in the month of February 2015, on the occasion of its Silver Jubilee. The missionary zeal of the priests, sisters and lay people who work there with one heart and mind still remains live in my memory. It was a unique experience for me to be an eye witness of the wonderful missionary apostolate that the MST priests undertake also in other parts of our country. The Communication ministry of the MST also deserves special mention. The Society does a lot of effective service in this filed. The IMPACT (Initiatives for Missionary Pastoral Animation and Communication Theology) functioning at Thevackal, Ernakulam, is doing a lot by organizing workshops and seminars on mission and pastoral communication for children and adults. I am glad to acknowledge the pioneering leadership given by Fr Jose Palakeel MST, the present assistant Director General, to start the Syro-Malabar Church Internet Mission. The SMCIM is now running very well under the efficient leadership of Fr Joby Maprakavil MST. The Society has contributed to create a mission culture in the Syro-Malabar Church. The Ruhalaya Seminary in Ujjain is forming priests with special missionary outlook. There have been studies on Mission theology and many of the MST fathers have written research papers on mission. Now it is up to all concerned to accept and foster the Society as a missionary power house for the Syro-Malabar Church as a whole.
I do appreciate and congratulate the Directors General, presently Fr Kurian Ammanathukunnel, and the priests who have given effective leadership to the Society in the past 50 years. The Society has also produced two missionaries in the Episcopal Service: Late Bishop Mar John Perumattam, the first Director General and the first Bishop of Ujjain and Mar Sebastian Vadakel, the present Bishop of Ujjain. The name of Fr Joseph Maliparampil, one of the founding members of MST, is to be specially mentioned in an occasion like this for the missionary zeal with which he has worked for the founding of Cherupushpa Mission League and the promotion of so many vocations to priesthood and religious life. I also specially acknowledge the person of Fr Sebastian Thuruthel MST, who was my teacher in the Major Seminary. The Syro-Malabar Church has recently honoured him with the title Vaidikaratnam.
The Vatican Council II, in its decree on the mission activity of the church teaches, “The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature, since it is from the mission of the Son and the mission of the Holy Spirit that she draws her origin, in accordance with the decree of God the Father” (AG, n. 2). Christ “founded His Church as the sacrament of salvation and sent His Apostles into all the world just as He Himself had been sent by His Father” (AG, n.5). Blessed Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, wrote: “Evangelizing is in fact the grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ's sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection” (EN, n. 14). The Pope continues, “Evangelization is for no one, an individual and isolated act; it is one that is deeply ecclesial. When the most obscure preacher, catechist or pastor in the most distant land preaches the Gospel, gathers his little community together or administers a sacrament, even alone, he is carrying out an ecclesial act, and his 5 action is certainly attached to the evangelizing activity of the whole Church by institutional relationships, but also by profound invisible links in the order of grace. This presupposes that he acts not in virtue of a mission which he attributes to himself or by a personal inspiration, but in union with the mission of the Church and in her name” (EN 60). Thinking in this line we have to say that the individual missionary preaches in the name of the Church, not in his or her name. Let us continue to exercise all our ministries in the Church as ecclesial acts which build up the church.
Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium says, “Though it is true that this mission demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything which we can see and understand. Jesus is “the first and greatest evangelizer”. In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. (n. 12)
Regarding new Evangelization also Pope Francis has his appeal: “we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Many of them are quietly seeking God, led by a yearning to see his face, even in countries of ancient Christian tradition. All of them have a right to receive the Gospel. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but “by attraction”. (ibid n. 13).
Evangelization of the poor is another important emphasis in the teaching of Pope Francis. “Evangelize the poor: this is the mission of Jesus; this is also the mission of the Church and of all the baptized in the Church. To be a Christian 6 and to be a missionary is the same thing,” the Pope said on Jan. 24, 2016 to the people gathered in Saint Peter's Square. In the same speech the Pope continued: “What does it mean to evangelize the poor? It means to be close to them, to serve them, to free them from oppression, and all this in the name and with the Spirit of Christ, because he is the Gospel of God, he is the mercy of God, and he is the liberation of God.”
The Pope also says that everyone needs to be evangelized, both the evangelizer and the one who hears him. In his angelus address on January 26, 2014, the Pope said, “Jesus teaches us that the Good News, which he brings, is not reserved to one part of humanity, it is to be communicated to everyone”. With the new emphases in the vision of evangelization proposed by the magisterium, the Church has taken equally new approaches in the mission of evangelization and I appeal to the Missionary Society of St Thomas the Apostle to embark on this new challenge and give the Syro-Malabar Church and the Church in India a new missionary orientation. You have to take up researches and studies in your houses of academics and practical approaches in your mission fields. This is a great challenge, but you can do it. May God give you through His Spirit all the strength you need for this purpose! With these words let me declare the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Missionary Society of St Thomas inaugurated.