Memorial of St Kuriakose Elias Chavara – Matthew 9:35-38

Memorial of St Kuriakose Elias Chavara – Matthew 9:35-38

Kuriakose Chavara was born in 1805 in Kerala, India in a small village of Alleppey district in the Travancore state. After his early schooling in the native village he felt a great desire to become a priest. He first began studies under the local parish priest. At the age of 13 in 1818 he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest at the age of 24.

In 1831, along with Fr. Thomas Palackal, under whom he himself had done his seminary studies and Fr. Thomas Porukara, he founded the first indigenous religious congregation for men, now known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI). It was after the death of his senior companions in the foundation that Fr. Kuriakose, together with the first members, made the religious profession in 1855.

He took the name Kuriakose Elias of the Holy Family and established seven religious houses in different parts of Kerala. This new congregation made great strides in the spiritual renovation of the Syro-Malabar Church. Seminaries for the education and formation of the clergy were established, annual retreats for priests and people were conducted, a publishing house, the first wooden press in Kerala for the propagation of Catholic doctrine was started along with a house for the dying and destitute. The newly established congregation also focused on the catechumens and schools for general education. All these were set up by the new congregation under Fr. Kuriakose Elias’ leadership.

Fr. Chavara also introduced valuable improvements and reforms in the Syro-Malabar liturgy. In 1866, with the co-operation of Fr. Leopold Boccaro OCD, he started the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (CMC) for women. When a schism threatened the Church in 1861, Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, the then Vicar General of the Syro-Malabar Church, took a strong stand and effectively thwarted the schism that would have divided the Church in Kerala.

Fr. Chavara has also written a number of books. His counsel to Christian families given in the form of the ‘Testament of a Loving Father’ is relevant to this day. Essentially a man of prayer and intense charity, he lived in close communion with the Lord amidst his several religious and social activities. Owing to his deep spirituality that permeated all his actions, he was accepted as a man of God, from his early years.

In 1871, on January 3rd, Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, after a short but painful illness, passed away. He was the Prior General of all the monasteries of the congregation from 1856 till his death in 1871.

Many favours have been received through his intercession. Saint Alphonsa sought the intercession of Saint Kuriakose and was instantly cured of her illness. She had certified this cure by her own handwritten testimonial.

On 8 February 1986, during his historic visit to Kottayam, Kerala, Saint John Paul II raised Venerable Kuriakose Elias Chavara to the honours of the altar, declaring him ‘Blessed’. He was declared a saint on 23 November, 2014 by Pope Francis in Rome.

In the Gospel of today, the disciple is called to pray for an abundance of workers in this most challenging task in the mission. Yet the answer to our prayer is often not someone else but our own selves. In asking His disciples to pray for labourers in the harvest, Jesus intends His disciples to be the answer to their own prayers. The call to discipleship is not be supervisors but labourers!

Fr Warner D’souza

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