(Photos: Antonina Zielinska)
Vibrantly colored umbrellas, women dressed in Indian garb and people radiating with the love of God could be seen and heard as a procession headed out of Guardian Angel Church onto Ocean Parkway July 1.
Syro-Malabar Indian Catholics were giving glory to God and honoring their patron in Brighton Beach.
“We come to celebrate St. Thomas the Apostle, the father of our faith,” said Father Shiju Chittattukara, S.D.V., director of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Mission at Guardian Angel Church.
It is believed that St. Thomas the Apostle made his way to India to spread the Gospel there in 52 A.D. The Syro-Malabar people from Kerala, India, trace their roots back through generations to St. Thomas. They continue their traditions in their Eastern rite while remaining in full communion with Rome and the pope.
In New York, most of the Syro-Malabar priests also fill positions as priests in the local diocese including as pastors and vicars of the Roman Catholic churches.
The festivities began with Mass in the Malayalam language. It followed much of the same order of Mass in the Western rite with some differences. There was more music and singing by the choir, priests and people. The priests wore morer traditional vestments and faced the altar for much of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
“It is beautiful to see you praying and learning the splendor of this liturgy,” said Father Francisco Walker, pastor of Guardian Angel parish, when he addressed the congregation.
He was invited as a sign of thanksgiving from the Indian priests since the Brooklyn parish has been a home for the Syro-Malabar faithful for decades.
“Thank you for being with us… It is an honor for me to be with you and you are always welcome here,” said Father Walker.
Father Antony Pittappillil, S.D.V., was the main celebrant and Father Antony Vadakara, C.M.I., parochial vicar at St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus, Greenpoint, was the homilist.
“St. Thomas gets a bad reputation,” said Father Vadakara. It was, after all, St. Thomas who encouraged the other disciples to be ready to die with Jesus at the news of the death of Lazarus (John 11:16.).
Thomas, the Inquisitor
Father Vadakara said St. Thomas’ life was not marked by doubt, but by the self-understanding that he did not have all the answers and he needed to ask questions. Father Vadakara said “Thomas, the Inquisitor” would be a more fitting title.
After the Mass and procession, the Syro-Malabar community gathered in the parish garden, where priests, religious sisters and lay people could enjoy treats from the American and Indian culinary traditions. The crowd was dazzled with singing, dancing performed by children, youth and adults. The offering ranged from hymns in English, to Bollywood-style dances, contemporary and traditional Indian songs, and even a comedy routine. While all this was happening, the younger children played happily together on the grass.