POPE John Paul II has proposed three national Catholic bishops' conferences in India to work on solving longstanding feuds among Latin and Eastern Catholic rites.
Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, apostolic pronuncio to India, presented the Pope's proposal in a letter dated July 2 to Archbishops Simon Pimenta of Bombay (Latin), Benedict Varghese Gregorios Thangalathil of Trivandrum (Malankara), Anthony Padiyara of Ernakulam (Syro-Malabar) and Henry D'Souza of Calcutta (Latin), members of a special commission dealing with the issue.
Rivalry among the rites has been expressed in their approach to evangelisation. Eastern-rite orders say they are justified under their canon law to take their missionary efforts anywhere. Latin-rite authorities cite their canon law which establishes geographical jurisdictions and requires permission of the local bishop for missionary activities by groups not a part of the jurisdiction.
The Pope's letter, addressed to the bishops of India, said the bishops of the Latin, Malankara and Syro-Malabar rites have the right to establish their own episcopal bodies in accordance with their own ecclesiastical legislation.
The Pope called on the ritesto work together, saying the "church vocation" requires "reconciliation where unity has been impaired or damaged."
Christianity in India dates back to St Thomas the Apostle who is said to have brought it to the sub-continent. The church in Kerala, in south-western India, was linked to the Chaldean-rite church, which was separated from Rome until 1692, but still considered itself in communion with the Vatican and welcomed the Portuguese who came to India in 1498. But Portuguese insistence on placing the ancient Indian church under royal control and subjecting it to the Latin prelates was met with rebellion.
A number of Christians formed a schismatic church at a synod at Udayamperur in 1653 called the Malankara rite, which appealed to the Jacobite patriarch of Antioch for a bishop in 1665. Meanwhile the leader of the rebellion, a man named Thomas, declared himself the bishop under the title Mar Thoma I.
Those who remained in union with Rome and without a hierarchy of their own were known as the Syro-Malabar rite.