Parish of St Alphonsa
October 4 was a landmark day for Syro-Malabar Catholics in the Archdiocese, as Matthew Biddle explains…
IT BEGAN with just eight families in 2006, but nine years later Canberra’s Syro-Malabar community has reached such a large size that it has been established as a parish in its own right.
Almost 800 people gathered on October 4 at St Peter Chanel’s Church in Yarralumla to celebrate Mass on the feast day of the community’s patron, St Alphonsa, and to hear the proclamation of the decree establishing the parish.
Colour, children, and traditional music marked the celebration, which included a Marian procession after Mass and a shared evening meal.
Archdiocesan priests Fr Varghese Vavolil, Fr Varghese Assin, Fr Praveen Paul, Fr Joshy Kurien and Fr James Antony CMI were joined by Fr Francis Kolencherry, Vicar-General of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Australia, who read the decree of establishment on behalf of Bishop Bosco Puthur.
“It is now deemed beneficial that the Syro-Malabar communities in different parts of Australia be coordinated and organised under different parishes, for better pastoral care, smoother administration and consistent spiritual and other pastoral activities,” the decree read. “Having sought and heard the counsel of the presbyter council of the eparchy of Melbourne and in accordance with the norms of CCEO (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches) and by testimony of this document, I hereby establish this St Alphonsa Syro-Malabar Parish Canberra.
“The territory boundaries of the Parish encompass the Australian Capital Territory and adjacent New South Wales towns of Queanbeyan, Yass and Goulburn. The Syro-Malabar faithful living in the set region will be members of this parish.”
Fr Kolencherry said he was delighted to see the community he served for more than eight years become a parish.
“I am so happy and proud because I was here many years with you, trying our best to form a beautiful Christian community to receive Jesus, to share Jesus, to live with Jesus and witness Jesus,” he said.
Fr Varghese, who has been appointed as the first parish priest for the Syro-Malabar Parish, said the community had grown from eight families to almost 300 families since it was established in Canberra in 2006.
“We have got 270 children attending our catechesis plus another 500 or more adults in the community, so we have between 800 and 1,000 people,” he said.
The Syro-Malabar Parish currently celebrates its liturgy on weekends at St Peter Chanel’s Church in Yarralumla, but Fr Varghese is hopeful that the Parish will be able to build its own church in the future and offer daily Mass.
The St Thomas the Apostle Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of Melbourne was established in March 2014, and is only the second eparchy of the Syro-Malabar Church outside of India.
It has Mass centres or parishes in 16 dioceses around Australia.
“The Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 23 Eastern Catholic rites, and the second largest among the Eastern rites, after the Ukrainian Church,” Fr Varghese explained. “This tradition goes back to St Thomas the Apostle, our father in faith. There are three forms of Holy Qurbana (Mass) for the Syro-Malabar people – the most solemn holy Qurbana, which is called Raza and then a solemn Mass, and then the simple Mass.
“It is the unique expression of the Syro-Malabar Catholic people and it is a treasury of the whole universal Church.”