.- Pope Benedict XVI voiced his appreciation of the Church's “legitimate diversity” of rites and traditions, in a March 25 meeting with the bishops of India's Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
“The apostolic traditions which you maintain enjoy their full spiritual fruitfulness when they are lived in union with the Church universal,” the Pope told the bishops, whose church traces its lineage to the first-century mission of the Apostle Thomas.
“Like your forefathers,” he said, “you too are called, within the one household of God, to continue in firm fidelity to that which has been passed down to you.”
“All Catholic Bishops share a proper concern for faithfulness to Jesus Christ and are desirous of that unity which he willed for his disciples, while preserving their legitimate diversity.”
“The Catholic Church wishes the traditions of each particular Church or rite to remain whole and entire,” said the Pope – quoting from the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches, which urged Eastern Catholics not to “latinize” their liturgies and other traditions.
Although the Syro-Malankara Church's faith and customs are ancient and authentically Catholic, it was separated from the Holy See for several centuries because of disputes with Latin rite missionaries, who sought to impose their own customs on the the native clergy and faithful. Many Indian Christians of the West Syrian tradition remain separated, as members of the Syrian Orthodox Church.
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church re-estalished communion with the Holy See in 1930, and has grown exponentially – from a single group of four people, led by the Malankara bishop Mar Ivanios, to its present membership of 500,000 – since that time. During his lifetime, Pope John Paul II described it as the fastest-growing group within the Catholic Church.
“You rightly follow in the footsteps of the Servant of God Mar Ivanios, who led your predecessors and their faithful into full communion with the Catholic Church,” Pope Benedict XVI told the assembled bishops, who had come from India to the Vatican for their traditional “ad limina” visit. Bishops within the Catholic Church make the visit to Rome for discussions with the Pope and a visit to the tomb of St. Peter every five years.
India is also the home of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a larger group of Eastern Catholics who follow a tradition that differs from that of the Syro-Malankara branch. Both traditions have their roots in the ancient church of Antioch, in present-day Turkey.
Pope Benedict told the Syro-Malankara bishops that they should continue “to foster an affection among your priests and people for the liturgical and spiritual heritage that has come down to you, while steadfastly building upon your communion with the See of Peter.”
“Invoking the intercession of Saint Thomas the Apostle, India’s great patron,” he stated, “I assure you of my prayers, and willingly impart to you and to those entrusted to your care my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ.”