Kochi (Fides Service) - The Catholics of Kerala are rejoicing at the news that the Holy See has granted the title of International Shrine to St Thomas Apostle Shrine situated in the Malayattor mountains, in the southern Indian state. The news was announced by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Archbishop Major of Ernakulam-Angamaly who received a letter from the Congregation for Oriental Churches.
The mountain Shrine, 80 km from the town of Kochi, is dedicated to St Thomas the first evangeliser of the region in the 1st century. In fact here followers of Christ are known as Thomas Christians. Catholics of three rites Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara and Latin rite, form the Catholic Church of India.
According to tradition the shrine, visited by as many as 3 million pilgrims every year, stands on a hill where St Thomas used to retire to pray.
“The designation of this first “International Shrine” in India is a great honour for Catholics in this country ”, local Catholics told Fides.
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is flourishing, rich in vocations and family pastoral with a lively missionary spirit: it is a witness of new missionary spirit in Asia. The Church in full communion with Rome has it centre in Kerala and counts 3.9 million members in the world. Its vitality is seen especially in the field of vocations: over 6,000 priests (211 ordained in 2002) 30,000 nuns as well as thousands more priests and nuns born into the Syro-Malabar rite who have joined dioceses of congregations of Latin rite. This means that about 70% of the Catholic priests (diocesan and religious) and nuns in India (17 million Catholics in a population of one billion) are of are of Syro-Malabar origin. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 5/5/2004 lines 36 words 362)