Great Britain’s first Indian Syrian Catholic Bishop ordained in front of 12,000-strong crowd at Preston

Preston: Right Reverend Dr Joseph Srampickal who was appointed by Pope Francis as the first Bishop of the Syro Malabar Eparchy (Diocese) of Great Britain was consecrated and enthroned as Bishop at a colourful solemn ceremony at Preston’s North End stadium ground in the presence of around 12,000 people including a large number of bishops, civil dignitaries, priests, nuns and believers. Faithful from all parts of Great Britain and friends from all over the world even as far away as Australia came to the event.

Cardinal Mar George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro Malabar Church was the main celebrant of the consecration. Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster and Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangattu of Palai were the co-consecrators at the colourful four-hour long ceremony. Very Rev. Dr Thomas Parayadiyil was Bishop Joseph’s Archdeacon and Very Rev. Dr Mathew Choorapoikayil served as host of the ceremony.

The ceremony started at 1:30pm BST on Sunday, with a prayerful procession accompanied by specially written hymns for the occasion by the choir. Around 200 priests of the Syro Malabar rite dressed in their celebratory vestments joined the procession accompanied by traditional ornate umbrellas (known as Muthukuda). Before commencing the service, deacons incensed the sanctuary, specially built for the occasion at the football stadium and placed the Cross and the Gospel book on it. On either side of the Eucharistic altar, large statues of St Thomas and St Alphonsa were placed. A statue of Our Lady of Walsingham was also at the sanctuary. Mar Joseph Srampickal knelt at the sanctuary and venerated the relics of martyrs and saints. A relic of Blessed John Henry Newman was also included. Afterwards, the Bishop-elect knelt before the main consecrator and professed faith in Christ’s teachings and creed; and promised obedience to the Church and authorities (the Pope and the Major Archbishop). Reciting psalms and hymns in turns, the whole congregation prayed for the new Bishop. The main consecrator and co-consecrators laid a holy veil covering the new Bishop’s head and shoulders and placed the Gospel book on him, and imposed hands upon him in blessings to elevate Mar Joseph Srampickal to the apostolic ministry. Afterwards, His Beatitude Cardinal Mar George Alencherry anointed the new bishop with the chrism of holiness and sanctified him to the Episcopal ministry and subsequently crowned him with the mitre and gave him the crosier. The new Bishop was the principal celebrant of the Holy Qurbana that followed.

Cardinal Mar George Alencherry in his speech thanked the Pope for his recognition of the spiritual needs of Syro Malabar expatriates in the UK. He also reminded the Indian faithful here on the importance of the union with the Catholic Church in Great Britain, while maintaining the unique spiritual tradition of the mother church. Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Pontifical Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Papal Nuncio to Great Britain Archbishop Antonio Mennini conveyed their congratulatory greetings to the new Bishop. Bishop Mar Joseph Srampickal in his speech thanked everyone and solicited prayers and support for the new Eparchy.

Prelates who joined the Episcopal ordination service includes Archbishop Malcolm McMahon of Liverpool, Archbishop Mar Joseph Perumthottam of Changanacherry, Archbishop Mar Mathew Moolekattu of Kottayam, Archbishop Emeritus Kevin Patrick of Southwark, Bishop John Arnold of Salford, Bishop Peter Brignall of Wrexham, Bishop Joseph Toal of Motherwell, Bishop Terence Patrick Drainey of Middlesborough, Bishop Thomas Williams of Liverpool, Bishop Hlib Lonchyna of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of London, Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath of the Syro Malabar Diocese of Chicago, Bishop Mar Sebastian Vadakkel of Ujjain, Bishop Mar Pauly Kannokadan of Irinjalakuda, Bishop-Elect Mar Stephen Chirapanath of Rome, Rt Rev Monsignor Keith Newton of Walsingham, Monsignor Aldo Angelosanto of Dunkeld, Monsignor Eugene Harkness of East Anglia, Monsignor John Armitage of Walsingham Basilica, Monsignor Sean Healy of Northampton and Papal Nuncio representatives Monsignor Matteo De Mori, Monsignor Vincent Brady and Vatican official Monsignor McLean Cummings.

Guests representing several ecclesial communities and churches, Bishop Dr Mathews Mar Themothiose of the Indian Orthodox Church, Divine Retreat Centre UK Director Rev. Fr. George Panackal, Syro Malankara Catholic Church representatives Rev. Fr. Daniel Kulangara and Rev. Fr. Thomas Madakkumoottil, Canon Harry T Doyle of Lancaster, Canon Anthony McBride of Salford, and Rev. Fr. Varghese Mathew of the Malankara Orthodox Church and many such luminaries were also in attendance. The civil dignitaries who took part in the service and ceremonial procession includes Her Majesty the Queen’s representative Vice-Lieutenant of Lancashire Colonel Alan Jolley and wife, Mayor of Preston Councillor John Collins and Mayoress, Preston City Council Leader Councillor Peter Rankin, Preston Former Mayor Mrs Veronica Afrin, Councillor Tom Aditya of Bradley Stoke, Bristol and Preston City Council Chief Executive Mrs Lorraine Norris. The new Bishop’s 84 year old mother Mrs Ealikutty (Elizabeth) Mathew, brothers, relatives and friends came from India specially to attend the ceremony.

Rev. Fr Soji Olickal, Director of Sehion UK Ministries and his team led the Rosary that preceded the consecration ceremony. Following the ceremony, young people from Kids for Kingdom ministry presented cultural programmes on stage depicting Apostle St Thomas’s missionary works in the first century in India and the patrimony of the Indian Christian heritage. Even though the climate was rainy, the congregation was quite religious in participating in the service fully. After the event, refreshments were provided to all. The 60 member choir for the ceremony was led by Fr. Sebastian Chamakala. The event was well coordinated by Fr. Mathew Choorapoikayil and Fr. Saji Malayil Puthenpurayil with support from volunteers and local government officials.

With the ordination of its first bishop, Great Britain’s Indian Syrian Catholic community has taken a major step forward. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, one of the Eastern Catholic churches, originates in India. Syro-Malabar Catholics, also called “St. Thomas Christians”, trace their origins and faith to the missionary efforts of St. Thomas the Apostle, who landed at Kodungallur in Kerala, India, in 52 AD. St. Thomas was martyred at Mylapur, India, in 72 AD, after preaching and establishing Christian communities in different parts of India.

Known for its deep-rooted spirituality and high rate of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the Syro-Malabar Church is perhaps the most vibrant Catholic Church in the world, with over five million believers and a rich and fascinating history. There are 152 Mass centres for the new Eparchy to serve nearly 50,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in Great Britain. Currently, there are 23 priests and chaplains exclusively working for the community in Britain. Preston’s St Ignatius Church which was donated by Bishop Michael Campbell of Lancaster for the exclusive use of the Syro Malabar community shall serve as the Cathedral of the new Eparchy. The church has been renamed the Cathedral of St Alphonsa of Immaculate Conception, the heavenly patron of the new Diocese.

Mar Joseph Srampickal, whose title is now the Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy (Diocese) of Great Britain was until recently the Vice-Rector of the Propaganda Fide College in Rome. Mar Joseph Srampickal (Benny Mathew) was born on May 30, 1967, at Poovarany, in the Eparchy of Palai, India. He joined the seminary after completing post-graduation from the University. He studied philosophy at St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary in Kottayam, and theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome, where he obtained a licentiate in biblical theology. He was ordained a priest on August 12, 2000 and continued his studies at Oxford (England) in Sacred Theology. He is fluent in four languages, namely Malayalam, English, Italian and German.

-Councillor Tom Aditya