The establishment of the eparchies also takes place as the Congregation for the Oriental Churches celebrates its centenary with a variety of activities in Rome, culminating in Mass with Pope Francis at the Basilica of St. Mary Major Oct. 12.
In his letter, Pope Francis noted that "In India, even after many centuries, Christians are only a small proportion of the population and, consequently, there is a particular need to demonstrate unity and to avoid any semblance of division."
He stated that when the Syro-Malabar Church expanded with missionary eparchies to parts of northern and central India, "it was generally thought by the Latin Bishops that there should be just one jurisdiction, that is, one bishop in a particular territory. These eparchies, created from Latin dioceses, today have exclusive jurisdiction over those territories, both of the Latin and Syro-Malabar faithful."
"However, both in the traditional territories of the Eastern Churches, as well as in the vast area of the so-called diaspora (where these faithful have long been established), a fruitful and harmonious cooperation between Catholic bishops of the different sui iuris Churches within the same territory has taken place."
Overlapping jurisdictions in India "should not longer be problematic," the Pope wrote, noting that they have already existed in Kerala for some time, and his own expansion of the Syro-Malankara Church in recent years.
"These developments show that, albeit not without problems, the presence of a number of bishops in the same area does not compromise the mission of the Church. On the contrary, these steps have given greater impetus to the local Churches for their pastoral and missionary efforts."
He voiced hope that his decision to broaden the reach of the Syro-Malabar Church would be "welcomed with a generous and peaceful spirit, although it may be a source of apprehension for some, since many Syro-Malabars, deprived of pastoral care in their own rite, are at present fully involved in the life of the Latin Church
Francis stressed his conviction that "there is no need for concern: the Church's life should not be disrupted by such a provision."
"Indeed it must not be negatively interpreted as imposing upon the faithful a requirement to leave the communities which have welcomed them, sometimes for many generations, and to which they have contributed in various ways. It should rather be seen as an invitation as well as an opportunity for growth in faith and communion with their sui iuris Church, in order to preserve the precious heritage of their rite and to pass it on to future generations."
"The path of the Catholic Church in India cannot be that of isolation and separation, but rather of respect and cooperation," he said, adding that the presence of several bishops of various rites "will surely offer an eloquent witness to a vibrant and marvelous communion."
Francis closed his letter urging the Catholic Churches in India "to be generous and courageous as they witness to the Gospel in the spirit of fraternity and mutual love."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
"For the Syro-Malabar Church, this continues the valued work of their priests and religious in the Latin context, and sustains their availability for those Syro-Malabar faithful who, although choosing to attend Latin parishes, may request some assistance from their Church of origin. The Latin rite Church can continue to generously offer hospitality to members of the Syro-Malabar communities who do not have church buildings of their own."
He said that "with the growth of spiritual friendship and mutual assistance, any tension or apprehension should be swiftly overcome. May this extension of the pastoral area of the Syro-Malabar Church in no way be perceived as a growth in power and domination, but as a call to deeper communion, which should never be perceived as uniformity."