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CARDINALS-THOTTUNKAL Oct-25-2012 (560 words) With photos posted Oct. 24. xxxi

Cardinal-designate says pope appreciates diversity of Indian church

Cardinal-designate Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, Syro-Malankara archbishop of Trivandrum, India, smiles during an interview at the Vatican after being named a cardinal Oct. 24. (CNS/Paul Haring)

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The 53-year-old head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church said Pope Benedict XVI's decision to make him a cardinal is a sign of the pope's appreciation for Indian Catholics' "unity in diversity."

Archbishop Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of Trivandrum, spiritual leader of the Eastern Catholic Church, was attending the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization when the pope announced Oct. 24 he would make the archbishop and five other churchmen cardinals in late November.

Wearing a typical bishops' black cassock and magenta sash, the cardinal-designate stood out from the synod crowd of bishops because of his masanapsa -- a gold-trimmed black hood marked with white crosses.

Addressing the synod Oct. 13, he focused on the need for the church to give a practical witness of Gospel values and to ensure that its liturgies are true experiences of prayer.

"Our dear Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata brought to the world, especially to India, a very practical means of evangelization: a witnessing model," he said. "She became the most effective missionary in a land where Christians are only less than 3 percent of the population.

"Mother Teresa witnessed Jesus everywhere," he said, telling synod members that encouraging Catholics to be witnesses must begin with "you and me."

The cardinal-designate also told the synod that Jesus' promise of abundant life places an obligation on Christians to defend human life, human dignity and human rights.

"Any attempt of the church to promote human dignity, to bring justice to the underprivileged, is a genuine mark of obedience to the will of Jesus," he said. "Enhancing human dignity, speaking for the voiceless, being a symbol of justice, promoting democratic values, etc., are to be seen seriously as marks of promoting human life, which eventually lead people to life in abundance."

The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church based in the southwest Indian state of Kerala. It has more than 400,000 members, including 10,000 in North America. It is one of two Eastern churches that, along with the Latin Church, make up the Catholic Church in India. The other is the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.

Father Paul Thelakkat, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, told CNS the new cardinal's appointment is an acknowledgment of "the vibrancy and diversity of the different rites in the Catholic Church."

"The young cardinal is known for his leadership qualities, and (his appointment) will certainly have its impact on the church leadership of the Catholic Church in India," he said. The cardinal-designate has "taken the lead in spreading social awareness and in the field of education" in Kerala, he said.

Born Isaac Thottunkal in Mukkoor, Kerala, June 15, 1959, he will become the youngest of the 211 members of the College of Cardinals.

Ordained a priest in 1986, he went on to earn his master's in theology from Dharmaram College in Bangalore and a doctorate in ecumenical theology from Rome's Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1997.

In 2001, just four years after he returned to India, Pope John Paul II named him an auxiliary bishop of Trivandrum and apostolic visitor for Syro-Malankara Catholics living in North America and Europe. Named bishop of Tiruvalla in 2003, he became an archbishop three years later when the diocese became an archdiocese.

He was elected the major archbishop and catholicos of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church in 2007.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Anto Akkara in Bangalore.


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