This is the second Eastern Catholic diocese or eparchy to be established in Britain covering the same territories as the Latin dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, and in England & Wales. The first was the Eparchy (previously an Exarchate) of the Holy Family of London, for the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, led by Bishop Hlib Lonchyna, our patron. It was a year ago that Bishop Hlib welcomed Dr Joseph Palackal to serve a Holy Qurbana of the Syro-Malabar Church in English at his Cathedral in Duke Street, Mayfair, London, at the Society of St John Chrysostom's 2015 Festival of Eastern Catholic Churches. The text and manner of serving the Qurbana, incorporating elements in Aramaic and Persian deep within the St Thomas Christians' tradition, had been restored by Fr Joseph, who also wrote the musical setting of the liturgy. For the report and pictures see here.
The new see will be established in Preston, Lancashire. Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice-Chairman, writes, "When I was growing up nearby, Preston was the heart of a vibrant old Catholic recusant Lancashire. the church which is to be the Syro-Malabar eparchy's new cathedral, St Ignatius' Church - affectionately known as St Ig's - was a great Jesuit foundation closely linked with the history of martyrdom and perseverance in penal times, and a centre of great pride for an enduring English Catholicism, as well as the more recent arrivals from other lands, notably Ireland. With considerable demographic change in the population of Preston, especially with the settlement of Asian non-Christian communities, the local Catholic population in the city reduced considerably. Historic St Ignatius' became less viable and, after a review of the need for Church buildings, became surplus to requirements. A new Bishop of Lancaster, however, brought the magnificent closed St Walburga's, whose spire dominates the city centre from beside the railway, back into use for the celebration of the traditional Latin rite, and also assigned St Ignatius, having restored and saved the fabric of the building, to the use of the Syro-Malabar as a desperately needed personal parish, under the patronage of Saint Alphonsa. (Who was St Alponsa?) From possible loss as an historic building, it is now to be a Cathedral. It is wonderful to think that such an important beacon of Catholic faith through dark times will burn as brightly as the Church in Britain sets out on a new journey in its common life and witness, with the permanently established partnership alongside the Latin and other Eastern Catholic Churches of the tens of thousands of St Thomas Christians of the Syro-Malabar Church in Britain."
In Britain the many thousands of Syro-Malabar faithful are served by around 30 priests, but they largely rely on hospitality for the celebrating the Holy Qurbana (the Eucharist) in Latin Catholic churches. A number of the priests are bi-ritual in the Latin rite, enabling them to support their mission from working in the Roman Catholic churches and saying Mass for the parishes where they reside. St Ignatius' Church is one of few entirely dedicated to the Syro-Malabar Church.
The Syro-Malabar Church traces its origins to the mission of St Thomas and his disciples that spread east of the Holy Land, into Mesopotamia and Persia (the Chaldean Catholic Church, centred in Iraq, belongs to the same liturgical tradition and rite as the Syro-Malabar Church), and through land and sea routes into India and beyond. Its heartland is in south west India's Kerala. The vernacular language is Malayalam, but the restoration of the fullness of the rite and its music from the rich patrimony of Syriac Christianity accompanies a pastoral and spiritual renewal in the Church in the present day, as we witnessed at the Qurbana in our 2015 Festival of Eastern Churches. Already, as the Syro-Malabar Church settles as part of Christianity in Britain, English will also form a vernacular tongue for the rite and liturgy. Hence Dr Palackal's extensive scholarly work to restore the liturgy for use in English and the music with its ancient Aramaic and Persian phrases from the time of India's early evangelisation, and its deep family link with Syriac Christianity, now so gravely under threat in its own homelands, the cradle of Christianity itself.
We repeat our welcome to the new eparchy and its new bishop with great joy as a sign of high hope for the future of the whole Catholic Church in Britain, and encouragement in our witness and service together.
There follows the report from Vatican Radio:
The Holy Father on Thursday, has erected the Eparchy of Great Britain of the Syro-Malabar Church based in Preston and has appointed Dr. Fr. Joseph (Benny Mathew) Srampickal, a member of the clergy of the Eparchy of Palai, until now Vice-Rector of the Collegio De Propaganda Fide in Rome, as the first bishop of the Eparchy.
Msgr. Joseph (Benny Mathew) Srampickal was born on May 30, 1967 in Poovarany, in the Eparchy of Palai. He entered the minor seminary and he studied philosophy at St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Vadavathoor, and theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, where he obtained a licentiate in biblical theology. He continued his studies at Oxford (England). He knows: Malayalam, English, Italian and German.
Ordained a priest on August 12, 2000, he has held the following positions: Professor at the minor seminary and Ephrem Formation Centre of Pala; Director of the Mar Sleeva Nursing College, Cherpumkal; Director of the Evangelization Programme; Secretary of the Bishop; Pastor at Urulikunnam. From 2013, he is Vice Rector of the Pontifical Urbaniana College of the Propaganda Fide, Rome.
The last thirty years have seen a growing influx of immigrants from India to the British Isles. More than 38,000 Syro Malabar faithful reside in England, Scotland and Wales. They are present in twenty-seven dioceses, concentrated mainly in the big cities: London, Birmingham and Liverpool. Twenty-three Syro Malabar priests are engaged in pastoral care, coordinated by Dr. Thomas Parayadiyil, MST, from 2013. In addition to the liturgical celebrations, training programs were established in the faith according to the Syro Malabar tradition for both, adults as well as children, with significant benefits for the involvement of the laity.
The See of the circumscription is in Preston, in the Diocese of Lancaster, where the Cathedral dedicated to St. Alphonsa is located, along with the Registry and the Residence of the new Bishop Joseph (Benny Mathew) Srampickal.Report online at VR here:
Pope Erects Eparchy of Great Britain of Syro-Malabar with a new Bishop - Vatican Radio