Beneath colorful banners and jeweled umbrellas, hundreds of men, women and children dressed in native attire stood assembled in the parking lot of the Syro-Malabar church on 24th Street, appropriately enough, near Thomas Road.
The Syro-Malabar Catholics — an Eastern Catholic Church — were originally evangelized by St. Thomas the Apostle back in the first century. Today, the local community, comprised of 100 families, is the largest Indian Christian community in Arizona.
For the last eight years, this immigrant flock has celebrated Mass at the Missionaries of Charity’s Our Lady of Fatima Mission on south 17th Street. After purchasing an office building and gutting the interior, the Syro-Malabar community was able to establish its own church which was named Holy Family. Much of the work on the building was done by parishioners. Bishop Jacob Angadiath ventured from the Syro-Malabar diocesan headquarters in Chicago for the dedication ceremony and opening liturgy Nov. 2.
The celebration began with a procession and performance in the parking lot as proud parents and onlookers snapped photos of 120 children, students of the catechism school that meets on Sundays for 90 minutes prior to Mass.
Groups of 10-15 students, beginning with the youngest, danced to the beat of a native drum just outside the entrance to the new church. Young girls decked out in immaculate white dresses tied with magenta sashes waved pom-poms. Older boys wearing yellow hats marched with yellow and white flags and older girls dressed in crimson saris danced as music blared from the loudspeaker and voices chanted saldadum, saldadum, welcome!
Bishop Angadiath blessed the altar and the walls to the left and right of the sanctuary as well as the sacred vessels with chrism. After the Mass, chanted and prayed entirely in Malayalam except for the Our Father rendered in English, the decree from Bishop Angadiath declaring that the mission was now a full-fledged parish, was read. Fr. Mathew Munjanattu was named Holy Family’s first pastor.
Bishop Gerald N. Dino of the Holy Protection of God Byzantine Eparchy, as well as various other Eastern Church clergy, participated in the dedication ceremony and Mass as well.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese, pointed to the “rich Catholic culture that traces itself back to the preaching and heroic witness of St. Thomas the Apostle” in the modern-day state of Kerala in the south of India, the birth place of many of those who belong to the new parish.
“I rejoice with the Catholics of the Syro-Malabar Rite as they consecrate their new church in Phoenix,” Bishop Olmsted wrote. “We welcome them as true brothers and sisters in Christ, and assure them of fraternal love and prayers.”
St. Thomas suffered martyrdom on July 3 in the year 72 A.D at Mylappoor, India and the Syro Malabar Church observes July 3rd as a holy day of obligation. There are 27 Syro-Malabar dioceses in India and one in the U.S., with headquarters in Chicago.