A Cardinal in India, who inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, during his homilies and private conversations, used to say this. ‘I want to become a saint’. Who is this cardinal? He is none other than the Redemptorist Cardinal- Varkey Vithayathil C.Ss.R, who was the Major Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Church. He was born on 29th of May 1927 of Thresiamma and Justice Joseph Vithayathil in a traditional and noble catholic family in North Parur, Ernakulam. Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil had his school education at North Parur and Thiruvanathapuram, and his college education at University College Trivandrum, and St. Joseph College, Trichy. Impressed by the mission preached by Irish Redemptorist in Trivandrum-Kerala, he decided to join them. The Redemptorist congregation began with Irish priests and students in India. So the Irish superiors gave Irish Redemptorist formation to Irish students and soon they started promoting Indian vocations and Bro. Varkey was one of them. So he was immersed in this formation and became an Indian Irish Redemptorist. On 2nd of August 1947, he made his profession. During his formation period, he showed his metal. He was ordained on 12th June 1954 in Bangalore. The first Malayali Redemptorist priest was born. Seeing his brilliance and spirit of hard work, they sent him to Rome for higher studies. He is the first Indian sent to Rome. In 1955 he went to Rome for his studies in canon law at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) from where he took doctorate in 1959 on “The Origin and Progress of the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy.” He successfully defended his thesis and returned to India. Then he did his pastoral year with the batch of that year. He was entrusted with three services namely teaching ministry, Malayalam mission and vocation promotion. Since after coming back from Rome, Dr. Varkey Vithayathil served as professor of Canon Law for about 25 years at the Redemptorist Major Seminary, Bangalore.
He was known to me 1960 onwards and sometimes lived with him. He was known for his spirit of prayer, deep sense of community, simplicity and affability. His presence in the chapel on his knees and the habit of saying the rosary in the garden impressed me a lot. He found delight in the community exercises, such as work, play, picnic and so on. He said a couple of times that he had missed community life after becoming the bishop. So he used to visit our house at Chowara to enjoy it. Simplicity was his hallmark, simple lifestyle, ordinary transport and usual things in his room. Anyone can approach him at any time and he would spend his time with that person. He held various responsible offices in the province, such as provincial, consulter, Rector, Prefect, professor and so on. Being a canonist, he was able to guide so many people and various religious groups. While he was provincial, he continued his teaching ministry in the Redemptorist seminary. He took his doctorate in Indian Philosophy during his teaching ministry and diabetes became his life long companion. He served as the Provincial Superior of the Redemptorist Order from 1978 to ’84, and as president of the CRI from 1984 to ’85. While he was provincial, He was elected the president of C.R.I and during his time, a congress, the only congress, was held in the province of Bangalore. Since he was very patient and listening natured person, he could make mature decisions without haste. This quality led him to the Benedictine Monastery where there was tension and there he fulfilled his mission successfully and he became famous in the Church circle. He was appointed Apostolic Administrator of the Benedictine Monastery in Bangalore (1990-96) by His Holiness Pope John Paul II. The Syro-Malabar was in trouble for some time and was looking for someone to set right. By birth
and qualifications namely his thesis and Benedictine experience, Fr. Varkey was the right person, to handle the problem. So on 18th December 1996 Rev. Dr. Varkey Vithayathil was nominated Titular Bishop of “Antinoe” and the Apostolic Administrator of the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Church and of the Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly. He was consecrated bishop in Rome by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on 6th January 1997. He took an appropriate motto for his bishopric ‘Obedience and Peace’. Keeping this motto before him, with his spirit of prayer and hard work he led the Syro-Malabar Church to heights. His Holiness Pope John Paul II nominated Mar Varkey Vithayathil a member of the College of Cardinals on 21 st January 2001. In the consistory on 21 st February he was raised to the dignity of a Cardinal. He is the only Redemptorist who became Bishop in India. He attended the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI. Even though he died on the 1st of April 2011 he remained with us another ten days more, as the Bishops were in Rome for their mandated ad limina visit to the pope. The public and the media after his death proclaimed him a saint.
Fr. Thomas Mulanjanani, C.Ss.R,
Santhome, Redemptorist Seminary, Podimattam, Parathode P.O., Kottayam Dt, Kerala, India, Pin.6865112, Phone-cell.8281529475,Land-04828,234294 or 208118