It is with a heart full of sadness and nostalgic memories that I write these lines about our dear confrere, His eminence Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil CSsR. Although I know him only during his last 33 years of life, I can seriously say that I know him as a man of God, a true Redemptorist and a loyal son of the Church.
I first came to know Cardinal Varkey in 1978 when he was the Provincial Vicar to another great Indian Confrere, Fr. Bernard Pereira CSsR. That was the year I came to Bangalore to do my novitiate and then to complete the rest of my seminary life. A couple of times, it was to Fr. Varkey that we the novices were entrusted by our novice master when the latter went out of Bangalore for this or that apostolic assignment. To us novices, Fr. Varkey the ‘Socius’ came out as a very loving and loveable confrere to whom we could confide anything without fear. Towards the latter part of 1978, Fr. Varkey became the second Provincial Superior of the Bangalore Province, and in May 1979 our batch of novices were the first to be professed at his feet. While in the studentate we also had the good fortune of having him as our Professor of Indian Philosophy though he was quite busy with his new duties as the Provincial.
During my long years of formation in Bangalore, Fr. Varkey has come out to me as very committed Redemptorist who took his vows seriously. I still remember how in any and every conversation with us or dung his spiritual conference to us , he would invariably arrive at the vow of chastity so much so, even while concluding an annual retreat which he preached to us in the Studentate, his last talk was on the importance of the chastity though it was the Easter Vigil! Of course, towards the last year of his life, I have heard him stressing the vow of obedience citing his personal experience as proof of how God’s providence works in favour to those who obey as religious.
Like any other human being, surely he too had his quota of human weaknesses and also, his own ups and downs in life. However the way he faced all of them with single mindedness was exemplary. When he was made an Archbishop in 1996, he began yet another phase of his long life that was dedicated to God fully. Of course even as the head and father of Syro-Malabar Church he had to face many challenges but the way he faced them was what edified me.
Cardinal Varkey never forgot his roots, especially his Redemptorist roots. During my own long years of service in the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences many were the occasions which I had of meeting him. On every such occasion, Cardinal Varkey would break all rank and file, at times even ignoring ecclesiastical protocol would walk up to me, put his arm around me and inquire after my own self and also about ht Redemptorist Region of Colombo. Very often, he would also introduce me to other top ecclesiastical dignitaries present saying: “You know, he was my student, and that’s why he is now serving as a theological adviser of the FABC”! …
These are just a few scattered glimpses of dear Cardinal Varkey. His long life here on earth has been undoubtedly an enrichment to all the people of God but especially to those whom he served. For us, Redemptorists in the sub-continent, he was a shining light who not only was a model of a loving, friendly confrere but also someone who made the presence of the Redemptorist felt in our local Churches, and thus, made all of us proud as Redemptorists. Personally, I have no doubt that Cardinal Varkey is already in the presence of God interceding for all of us, especially for Redemptorists in the sub-continent for many of whom once upon a time he was the Provincial Superior, Professor and Confrere.
Fr. Vimal Tirimanna CSsR
(Write up Published in Asioc News, May 2011)