The Syro-Malabar Rite is one of the most ancient in the Church, tracing its roots back to apostolic times. In 1831, three Syro-Malabar priests in Kerala founded the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, India’s oldest indigenous religious community still in operation. They were Fathers Thomas Palackal, Thomas Porukara and Kuriakose Elias Chavara (1805-1871), whose feast is celebrated today. At first they intended a strictly contemplative life, but the local bishop asked them “to do some good to the people in the world.” They started a seminary for native clergy, a Catholic press, and Kerala’s first Catholic schools. In 1855 Father Chavara became the community’s superior general, and in 1861 he was appointed Vicar for all Syro-Malabar Catholics. In 1866 he helped found the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, India’s first indigenous female community. Under his leadership, the Carmelites founded orphanages and homes for the poor, the elderly and the sick. In 1986, he and Sister Alphonsa were beatified, the first Indian Catholics to be so honored. This past October St. Alphonsa was canonized.
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