US Christian Malayalis on church buying spree

via published on February 9, 2012

KOCHI: Kerala’s Syro-Malabar Church, the world’s second largest oriental Catholic Church, is busy buying property in the US and building its own churches. With its congregation growing in recent years, the Church is keen to have its own shrines.

“Though we had formed communities in all these places years ago, the Church started owning independent churches only now. We need to cater to a wider congregation, and that’s why the Church is buying and building independent parish churches,” Fr G Madathiparambil, ex-vicar general of St Thomas Syro-Malabar diocese of Chicago who has established many churches, said.

During his 10-year tenure, Fr Madathiparambil was instrumental in establishing many new churches.

To date, the denomination owns 22 churches in the US, including St Jeremiah Church in Framingham which it bought from the archdiocese of Boston last October for $2 million. Its piece de resistance, however, will be a $9 million cathedral currently under construction in Chicago. Most of these churches are designed in the Kerala style and have services in both English and Malayalam. Apart from holy mass every Sunday, most churches conduct catechism classes, retreats and baptisms.

Though the first church was bought in 1992, most of the expansion has happened only in recent years. While mostly unused Jewish temples and Protestant churches have been bought out, where this is not possible, land is bought and new churches built. Most of these churches are located in areas where Malayalis with roots in places like Pala, Kanjirappally and Kottayam have settled down.

The money for buying property and constructing churches is raised through bank loans and contributions from parishioners. The running expense is quite high. “In some parts of America, we share our services with other churches to avoid the huge maintenance expenses, but in some places it is more convenient to buy or construct a new church,” says Fr Paul Thelekat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church.

Next on the Syro-Malabar Church’s list is a parish church in New Jersey. In fact, the land has already been bought for $1 million. About $2 million would be spent on the construction. The church is also setting its sights on places like Arizona and Washington DC.

All roads lead to Rome

The Syro-Malabar Church’s expansion is not confined to the US. It has built a church in Qatar which has been off-limits for non-Islamic religions for centuries. But what takes the wafer is the $20 million (Rs 100 crore) church it is planning at the very heart of Christendom-Rome. The church is planning to buy a property there which can be used for ecclesiastical and residential purposes. According to sources, when a top delegation of the church visited Rome a couple of months ago, they identified a 12-room building which suits it needs. “It is too early to say anything,” Major Archbishop and cardinal designate Mar George Alencherry told TOI. Currently, the church has a priest in Italy to coordinate matters, but the Rome diocese and the Italian episcopal conference are still to grant permission for a permanent church.

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