Faith Formation

The Catechetical Heritage of the Syro Malabar Church

The Catechetical heritage of the Syro-Malabar Church is as old as this Church itself. Though there existed a system of imparting faith education in the Church, no comprehensive and chronological exposition of the history of catechesis is left behind. As in other Churches, there existed a system of catechumenate among the St. Thomas Christians too. In this system the new comers were given proper instruction in Christian faith and they were prepared to enter the ecclesial life through the sacraments of initiation. However, this was not as formal as the catechumenate systems in other Churches.

From the very beginning liturgical celebrations, catechetical instructions and customary practices were the means of imparting faith education among the St. Thomas Christians too. Catechetical instruction was given to adults along with the liturgical celebrations, while children were given special instruction either before or after the Holy Qurbana on the mysteries of faith, and were asked to recite and memorize the basic prayers of the Church. Customary practices, both in the family and community also played a role in imparting faith education. The Kathanars who had their training from the Malpans were the main catechists. The Ashan Kalaries were also centers for the catechetical instruction of children. Here, the children were taught the fundamental prayers and principles of faith, even by non Christian Ashans.

The western missionaries initiated the formal and systematic catechesis. Some of the main catechisms used in the Malabar Church before the Synod of Diamper were: the Doctrina Christiana, 1542 (the small catechism prepared by St. Francis Xavier); the Cartilha, 1554 (the first printed Catechism for India in Portuguese and Tamil); the Doctrina Christam, 1578 (the catechism printed in Tamil at Quilon); the Doctrina Christam, 1579 (the catechism published from Cochin); etc. The Synod of Diamper (1599) further reformulated and systematized the faith education in accordance with the directives of the Council of Trent (1545-1562). Archbishop Menezis prepared a catechism known as the Menezian catechism. In 1606 Archbishop Ros reformulated it and issued new statutes on catechesis. In 1700, the Carmelite Missionaries published a catechism known as Catechismus Doctrinae Christianae in Lingua Malabarica. In 1772, they prepared a new catechism known as Samkshepa Vedartham, which is the first printed book in Malayalam. In 1917 came the Valiya Vedopadesham, a translation of the Catechism of Pope Pius X and the Cheriya Vedopadesham, a shortened form of Valiya Vedopadesham. These prevailed in the Syro-Malabar Church until the Second Vatican Council.

After the Council there took place radical developments in the field of catechesis. Catechism books came to be prepared at first at the all India level under the guidance of CBCI. Later, catechism texts were prepared in vernacular languages under the guidance of regional episcopal councils. In Kerala, the P.O.C prepared a common text book series, known as Pithavin Pakkalecku (Towards the Father), for all the three Catholic Churches in 1970. A revised series, named Kristhuvinte Pinnale (In the Foot Steps of Christ), was published during the period 1980-1983. Though this contributed, to a great extent, to foster unity among the Catholic Churches in Kerala, the paramount need of paying sufficient attention to the particular characteristics and traditions of the individual Churches called for preparing separate text books for each particular Church sui iuris. The Catechetical Commission of the Syro-Malabar Church took up the responsibility and drew up the catechetical directory, the catechism and the catechetical text books for the faith formation of the members of the Church. (Ref. Call and Response: Catechetical Directory of the Syro-Malabar Church, published by Synodal Commission for Catechesis, para. 12-26).


Faith Formation in the Eparchy

The eparchy of Kothamangalam was established in 1956 by Pope Pius XII, bifurcating the eparchy of Ernakulam. The new eparchy included the foranes of Kothamangalam, Mailacombu and Arakuzha. Rt. Rev. Mgr. Mathew Pothanamuzhy was appointed the first bishop of the eparchy.

Among the various pastoral activities faith formation was given prime importance. Rev. Fr. Varghese Mothakunnel was in charge of the catechetical activities. He divided the whole diocese in to seven zones, viz., Kothamangalam, Arakuzha, Mailacombu, Muthalakodam, Karimannoor, Vazhakulam and Marika, to make the activities systematic and more effective. Faith education was given to students dividing them in to three groups, viz., Lower Primary, Upper Primary and High School. A centralized system of conducting examinations was also adopted.

Rev. Fr. John Vallamattam assumed the office of director in 1960. The office was given the name Vijnanabhavan. In 1973 Rev. Fr. Mathew Valiamattam was appointed as the director of Vijnanabhavan.

From 1977 onwards the catechetical activities in the diocese gathered new momentum under the patronage and guidance of the new Bishop Rt. Rev. Dr. George Punnakottil. Rev. Fr. Mathew Valiamattam (1973-1981), Rev. Fr. George Oliappuram (1981-1985) and Rev. Fr. George Kottoor (1985-1987) served as directors successively for a decade. Vijnanabhavan Book Stall was the initiative of Rev. Fr. Joseph Mulanjanani who assumed the office of director in 1987. Rev. Fr. Cherian Varikattu (1993-1994), and Rev. Fr. Jose Kizhakkel (1994-1997) served as directors in succession and contributed much to the catechetical formation of the students of the diocese. Rev. Fr. Stanley Kunnel, after his specialization in catechesis, assumed the office of director in 1997. The bifurcation of the diocese in 2002 necessitated a rearrangement of the zonal divisions. The whole faith formation was focused around seven regions, viz., Kothamangalam, Muvattupuzha, Vazhakulam, Thodupuzha, Muthalakkodam, Karimannoor and Paingottoor. Fr. Stanley also rendered exquisite service as the joint secretary of the Synodal Commission for Catechesis during the period from 2004 to 2011.

Rev. Fr. Jose Arackal was the director from 2006-2009. He successfully introduced the one week intensive program called Viswasolsav. The catechetical department of Changanacherry has been giving constant support and assistance in the introduction of the scheme and the preparation of the text books.

Rev. Fr. George Thekkekara served as the director from 2009 to 2012. The forane system was given prominence and the catechetical activities became focused around twelve foranes. The catechetical committee was also reorganized making it a representative body of forane directors and forane representatives and other nominated and ex-officio members. Rev. Fr. Sebastian Namattam was the director of Vijnanabhavan from 2012 to 2015. It was under his tenure that the Viswasolsav work books began to be published from the diocese itself based on the Bible. Rev. Fr. Joseph Ezhumayil is serving as the director since 2015 onwards. Bible Nursery text (Unneesoyude Koottukar) was published and Bible Nurseries are now started in all the parishes. Extra hand books for each class are also published based on the lives of saints. Catechism PTAs have been formed in all the Sunday Schools. 

As per the year 2016-17 there are 117 Sunday school units and altogether 27726 students of which 13722 are boys and 14004 are girls. Of the 1923 teachers, 9 are priests, 470 are nuns and 1444 are lay teachers (475 gent and 969 lady teachers), who render their selfless service to educate children in faith. The classes are held for 1 ½ hours every Sunday under the effective guidance of each parish priest.