HISTORY OF THE EPARCHY OF RAMANATHAPURAM
The Historical Background:
The Syrian Catholics, mostly the Syro-Malabar Catholics, from various parts of Kerala had started migrating to different areas of Tamiinadu years back, i.e., in the first half of the 20lh century, for the purpose of job, business etc. The Syrian Catholics who thus came in the beginning were going to the churches of the Latin Rite for fulfilling their spiritual needs. But as the territory of the undivided diocese of Trichur was oxtcnded to the areas of Tamilnadu, KO-extensive with those of the diocese of Coimbatore they got opportunity to get their spiritual needs fulfilled according to their own Mother rite. It was late Mgr. Zacharias Vazhappilly, former Vicar General of the diocese of Trichur who wai appointed to coordinate the pastoral activities for the Syro-Malabar migrants in this area. Under the leadership of Mgr. Zacharias a team of priests and religious who were zealous, dedicated and hardworking continued their pastoral care. Eventually the number of migrants increased and it led to the arrangement of more infra-structures for pastoral care. It was thus that the first Forane in this area, i.e., Coimbatore Forane was formed centralizing Ramanathapuram, in the Month of November 1973. That forane comprised of ail the parishes and stations in the extended area of Tamilnadu of the diocese of Trichur. It was a milestone with regard to the pastoral care of the Syro Malabar migrants and the erection of the epachy of Palakkad.
The Erection of the Eparchy of Palghat:
The Eparchy of Palghat which was erected on 20lh June 1974 with the decree from the Apostolic See Apostolico Requirente and inaugurated on 08,h September 1974, bifurcating the then existing Eparchy of Trichur, and adding some parishes from the eparchy of Tellichery, had the total area of 28,515 sq.kms. with 16 parishes, 08 stations, 14 priests and 20,810 faithful in the beginning. It comprised the civil districts of Palakkad in the State of Kerala and Coimbatore and a part of the district of Trichy in the State of Tamilnadu. The district of Coimbatore was later divided and the district of Erode was formed. Meanwhile the district of Trichy was also divided and thus the district of Karur was created. The district of Coimbatore was further divided in 2008 and the district of Tiruppur was formed. Thus the Eparchy of Palghat at the time of the erection of the new Eparchy of Ramanathapuram had jurisdiction over the Syro-Malabar faithful spread over the entire district of Palakkad in Kerala and the entire districts Coimbatore, Erode, Karur and Tiruppur in Tamilnadu with 93 parishes, 56 stations, 130 priests and 69,057 faithful.
The Need for Bifurcation and Erection of the New Eparchy of Ramanathapuram
a) Geographical, Cultural and Linguistic Differences
Among five, four districts of the Eparchy of Palghat were situated in Tamilnadu. The area developed enough to be raised into an eparchy. The culture in Tamilnadu is significantly different from that of Kerala. Our people in the district of Palghat are mainly farmers living on the hills and planes of the district. Our people in Tamilnadu live in the cities and towns and are either self-employed or otherwise employed. They live among Tamilians and speak their language, namely, Tamil and work with them. Their children can hardly read or write Malayalam. Through their constant living together and mingling with the local people they slowly appropriate Tamil culture. They form therefore a unit of their own in the Eparchy, having their own distinguishing traits.
b) Pastoral Difficulties
The linguistic and cultural differences created pastoral problems. Transfer of priests from the district of Palghat to those of Tamilnadu was becoming difficult. Some priests did not like to work in Tamilnadu. Those who go to Tamilnadu for pastoral work must learn well Tamil for efficient pastoral work, which cannot be expected from all priests. Similarly there is real difficulty in arranging common programmes for the youth and students of the Eparchy. The main problem is again the language. Moreover the vacation days for schools and colleges in Kerala do not correspond with those in the schools and colleges in Tamilnadu. The people and the priests have also to travel a long distance to attend programmes held at the diocesan head quarters at Palghat. Often they excuse themselves from attending common programmes on the ground of long and hazardous travel. This is especially true in the case of priests. Some of them have to travel two to three or even four hours to reach Palghat. The same amount of time is needed for return. As the programmes are of one day, they do not get enough time for a fruitful participation.
c) Need of the Student Community
It is also to be noted that there are over 3000 Ca tholic students studying in various schools and colleges and an equal number of youth working in different institutions in the four districts of Coimbatore, Erode. Karur and Tirupur. They all need pastoral care, lest they should lose their faith and morality. The erection of a new eparchy at the earliest possible was found out to be the most fitting solution in this matter.
d) Lack of Local Vocations
There are only six priests and a few sisters from the area now working in the diocese. There are at present only two candidates for priesthood from that area who are studying in the Seminary. The religious congregations have muoh loee s-andtdate*; from the area. Candidates are to be recruited from that area itself and they need to be given formation in the Seminary situated in trie area. If a new eparchy is erected this problem can be effectively attended to. The local clergy can take better pastoral care of the people of the area than others.
e) Urgency of the Need
The area under consideration being industrial has been fast developing. Unless the people were given effective and timely pd&Lural coro thoy would drift away from faith and become indifferent, sign of which has been very consnicuous. The 3000 strong student community of our Church needed to be taken special care of. The pastoral care needed to be yi\ an to the pcoplo taking into account their life situation and that of the students.
f) The request of the Clergy and Laity
Very often the clergy and laity in the area of Coimbatore used to request the bishops about the need of the erection of an eparchy in the area. Immediate step was taken in this regard, following the resolution passed in February 2008 by the representatives of the clergy and the laity of the parishes in Tamilnadu with the request to expedite eventual erection of an eparchy in the area.
The Formation of Coimbatore Region
As the craving for a new Eparchy became stronger H.E. Mar Jacob Manathodath, the Bishop of the undivided Eparchy of Palghat bifurcated Coimbatore Forane into three: Ramanathapuram, Gandhipuram and Erode and formed a region called Coimbatore including these three foranes and appointing Mgr. George Narikuzhi as synceiius in charge of this region. This arrangement was made by His Excellency with a view to the eventual erection of new eparchy forthe region.
THE ERECTION OFTHE NEW EPARCHY:
In the light of the application of His Excellency Mar Jacob Manathodath, the Bishop of Palghat, the XVlth Synod of Bishops of the Sy ro-Malabar Church held at Mount St. Thomsts, Kakkanad in Augu st 2008, after having considered the great distance from the eparchial headquarters at Palghat and the geographical, linguistic and cultural differences of the faithful in both areas, unanimously gave its approval for the erection of the eparchy of
Ramanathapuram. Thus, after due consultation in the Synod of Bishops and having obtained its consent and the assent of the Apostolic See, and having fulfilled everything required by law, as per the decree of 18th January 2010 with Prot. No 57/2010, His Beatitude Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, by virtue of the authority vested in him and in accordance with CCEO c. 85#1T erected the Eparchy nf Ramanathapuram. bifurcating tho eparchy of Paighat. Thus the new eparchy Has its territory comprising the four civil districts of Tamil Nadu namely, Coimbatore, Erode, Karur, Tirupurand its See in the City of Rmanathapuram in the civil district of Coimbatore. Fr. Paul Alappatt, a priest from the Archeparchy ofTrichur was appointed as its first Bishop the same day (Prot. 58/2010). He was ordained bishop by His Grace Mar Andrews Thazhath, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trichur, on the White Sunday, the 111hl April 2010 at Ramanathapuram (Alvernia school ground). His Grace Mar Jacob Thoomkuzhy, Archbishop emeritus of Trichur and His Excellency Mar Jacob Manathodath, Bishop of Paighat were the co-consecrators in the Ordination ceremony. The eparchy was inaugurated the same day in a public meeting presided over by H.E. Most Rev. Dr. Thomas Aquinas, the Bishop of Coimbatore and iiaugurated by Archbishop Chinnappa of the Archdiocese of Madrass, Maylapore. About 12,000 faithful including bishops, civil dignitaries, priests. religious and laity were present on the occasion.
The Statistical Data of the new Eparchy:
1. Total area: 21,013.49 sq.km
2. Total population: 83,48,944.
3. Syro-malabar Catholics: 16,694
Eparchial priests (with permanent option): 14
Eparchial priests (with temporary option): 9
Religious Priests : 30
Religious Sisters: 288
Religious Brothers: 3
Foranes - 3, Parishes -16, Stations -12, Colleges - 1, Higher Sec. Schools -16, High Schools - 22, Upper Primary - 23, Lower Primary - 27, Boarding Houses -14, Homes/Schools for the mentally and physically challenged - 4, Social Welfare Centers - 5, Technical Institutes - 6, Homes for the Aged - 6, Orphanages - 4, Hospitals - 4, Minor Seminary -1, Retreat Centre - 1, Centre for animation - 1, Counseling and rehabilitation centers -2.
Details of the Office Bearers of the Curia
Bishop : Mar Paul Alappatt - Phone : 0422 - 24221795
Vigar General : Msgr.George Narikuzhy - Phone : 09790100174
Finance Officer : Fr.Jose Kannumkuzhy - Phone : 09043493540
Pro- chancellor : Rev.Fr.Johnson Veepattuparambil - Phone : 08124000281
Notary : Fr.Seby Kundukulam - Phone : 09791802425
Secretary to the Bishop : Fr.Shijo Mavarayil - Phone : 09944237372
Starting of Coimbatore Mission : 29th April 1955
Formation Of Coimbatore Forane : Nov.1973
Erection of the Eparchy of Palghat : 20th June 1974
Inauguration of the Eparchy of Palghat : 8th Sept 1974
Erection of the Eparchy of Ramanathapuram : 18th Jan 2010
Inauguration of the Eparchy of Ramanathapuram & Episcopal Ordination of Msgr. Paul Alappatt : 11th April 2010