Controversy over Pope's remarks among Kerala Christians

Controversy over Pope's remarks among Kerala Christians
Kochi, Nov 22 (PTI) Controversy is raging in the christian community in Kerala following recent remarks by Pope Benedict XVI that St Thomas, had preached christianity in "Western" India, from where it spread to other parts of the country, fuelling a debate whether or not the Apostle had come to Southern India.

The community in Kerala believes that St Thomas came to this part in AD 52 and had established seven and half churches. The community considers St Thomas as the 'Father in Faith' of Christians in India.

The present Pope had in a pronouncement at the St Peter's square in Vatican recently had spoken of St Thomas, the Apostle, seemingly taking away from him the traditional title 'Apostle of India'.

Though he did not actually use the expression 'Apostle of Pakistan', what he said may seem to imply it, says an article by George Nedungatt, a faculty member of the Oriental Pontifical Institute, Rome, in "Satya Deepam", a mouthpiece of the Syro-Malabar church.

The article says the Pope's predecessors had on several occasions referred to St Thomas as the Apostle of India. However, differing from this view, Pope Benedict feels the area St Thomas evangelised was not South India, but what he called "western India" corresponding roughly to today's Pakistan, says the article.

The Pope, addressing a vast crowd at the St Peter's square, is said to have stated "..... Thomas first evanglised Syria and Persia and then penetrated as far as western India from where christianity reached also south India".

According to the Pope while north western India was evangelized by St Thomas, South India was not evangelised by him. He does not specify who first preached the gospel in South India: whether some disciple or disciples of the Apostle himself or others in the post apostolic age or later, the article says.

As the pope sees it, South India was not evangelised by St Thomas, but by Christians coming from north western India, seemingly at a later priod. "The Thomas Christians of South India, both catholic and others are not likely to be thankful for his papal statement. This is a clear departure from the pronouncements of his predecessors," the article says.

Church sources say there is scholarly debate on the evidence on whether St Thomas came to India and Kerala. Historical proofs are from Gospel of St Thomas and Act of Thomas, the sources said. From these there are evidences that St Thomas came to India. But it is not clear whether he had come to Western India or South India, the sources said adding the geography of the country was different earlier.

Several Popes have asserted the origin of South Indian Christianity from the Apostle Thomas. Pope John Paul V in 1606 erected the diocoese of San Thomas of Mylapore "because there lay buried the body of St Thomas", the article says.

Establishing the hierarchy of the Latin Catholic church in India in 1886, Pope Leo XIII referred to India as having first received the light of the gospel from the Apostle Thomas.

During the Apostolic visit to India in 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Mylapore tomb (in the present day Chennai) and in a brief discourse in which he is said to have cited the words of Apostle Thomas to his companions, it said.

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