From left to right, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankar Catholic Church, meets on June 22 in Philadelphia with Archbishop Charles Chaput and Archbishop Edward Adams, priest originally from Philadelphia and currently apostolic nuncio of the Vatican in Greece, which was coincidentally in Philadelphia.

The world leader of a rite of Indian Catholics visited Philadelphia on Wednesday, June 22.

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankar Catholic Church, oversees the Syro-Malankare rite, based in Kerala, India, and which claims nearly half a million Catholic faithful to this rite around the world. The other Catholic community for Indian Catholics is the Syro-Malabar rite.

In the United States, the Eparchy of Mary Queen of Peace (similar to a Latin rite diocese) governs all Syro-Malankar rite churches, including locally at St. Jude Church in the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia.

The 57-year-old prelate became the youngest cardinal of the Catholic Church in 2012, the first appointed for the Syro-Malankar rite and therefore the first to elect a pontiff, Pope Francis in 2013. He spoke to officials of the archdiocese here of the Catholic Christian. communities in India and, with recent migration, in the United States.

The two Catholic rites draw their Christian roots from the evangelization of Saint Thomas the apostle himself in their country in the first century.

One of the reasons Christianity has taken hold there and continues to grow, according to Cardinal Cleemis, is the fertile open ground of India’s predominantly Hindu population.

While Christians represent 2.3% of the population and Catholics only 1.8%, they enjoy respect and dignity in the country because it is “a cultural aspect of India”, said the cardinal Cleemis.

“The Hindu community in general is so loving and welcoming – all good values ​​in human life. When Christianity arrived in India in AD 52, it was the people who received the gospel. Therefore, they have this inherent quality of receiving good things from others, ”he said.

But incidents of violence against Christians have erupted in recent years in India, a fact which, according to Cardinal Cleemis, is a sign of political opportunism on the part of minority actors in Indian society, and not of religious hatred or discrimination by most Indians of all faiths, nor by the secular Indian government.

He is loath to label such attackers as Hindus, but rather as “people who have not understood the Hindu religion,” he said. “It’s a small group but this group is trying to influence the vast majority of the Hindu population by saying, ‘this is the only country we have as Hindus.'”

The cardinal considers that such attempts to move India from a secular state respectful of all faiths to a single religion, Hinduism, are misguided and out of step with Indian tradition and the will of its people inscribed in the constitution of the country.

“The majority of Hindus are still secular, (which) means you accept the other religion as it is,” he said. “’Secular’ is not contrary to religious values. Catholic and secular means that you recognize Muslims and Hindus as they are.

The majority of Hindus, he said, “are a very God-fearing people, a very welcoming people, and they always care about other communities as well. The vast majority are Hindu but it is not a Hindu nation. (It is) a federal republic with a secular constitution, a very open and welcoming community.

The visit to Philadelphia is not the first for Cardinal Cleemis. He saw the local Catholic community here as a civil servant for three years in the New York-based Eparchy Mary, Our Lady of Peace, which serves more than 11,000 Syro-Malankar worshipers in the United States and Canada. , according to Vatican statistics from 2012.

This was before he was called to assume leadership roles at a high level of the church in India. After having served as Auxiliary Bishop and Archbishop in India, he now heads all Syro-Malankar Catholics in the world as Major Archbishop. He is also president of the Indian Conference of Catholic Bishops and sits on two Vatican Councils.

As with many immigrant peoples in America, the first generation has strong ties to their homeland while the next generation takes root more firmly there.

The same is true of Indian Catholics today, and Cardinal Cleemis sees it as “a positive thing. When they arrive at a new culture, they have to take root in it. America has become their home. People will become aware of their land – this land – and work for its progress. “

He believes Christians of Indian descent can contribute to the Catholic Church’s emphasis in America on strengthening families.

“I am sure that our presence here in this great country will further strengthen the growth of the family,” he said.

Even though he sees divorce on the increase in many societies, “patience, sacrifice, mutual understanding” are strong values ​​among Indian families. And furthermore, “what God has united, that men do not divide. God has united you, this is not a man-made reality, ”said the cardinal. “This attention must be given to families, and I hope that our liturgy and our sacramental life also contribute positively to our presence here.”

As a sign of the growing presence of growing Syro-Malankar Catholics in this region, Cardinal Cleemis highlighted “a very well established youth group in our eparchy here”, and declared that a diocesan youth assembly will meet this year. been to Holy Family University in Northeast Philadelphia, July 29-31.