The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is an Apostolic Church which traces its origin to the Apostolate of St. Thomas who, according to the tradition, landed at Kodungalloor in 52 AD and founded seven Christian communities along the Malabar cost in the present day Kerala State in South India. It is one of the 21 Oriental Churches in Catholic Communion with its own particular characteristics expressed in worship, spirituality, theology and disciplinary laws. Through their relationship with the East Syrian Church over several centuries, this early Christian community in India (St. Thomas Christians), has come to share the liturgical, spiritual and other ecclesiastical traditions of the Syrian Church, all the while keeping their distinctive Indian characteristics, especially in Church administration and socio-cultural and ascetico-spiritual life. In the 16th Century with the arrival of the Portuguese, a new era began in the life of this Church. Over time and with better understanding of the faith and traditions of the Oriental Churches, this church flourished in faith and life. In 19th century, this Church was designated as the Syro-Malabar Church. At present, there are over 3.5 million Syro-Malabar Catholics all over the world. During the course of evangelization, St. Thomas suffered Martyrdom in 72 AD at Mylapore in Tamilnadu State in South India, where his tomb is located. Syro-Malabar Church all over the world observes July 3rd as a Holy Day of Obligation in remembrance of St. Thomas who is our guru and namesake. The faith that we received from St. Thomas continues to thrive in the Syro-Malabar church, as exampled by the Pala diocese of the church which has the highest number of priestly and religious vocations in the entire Catholic Church. In essence, as a historian of our church has summed up “The Syro-Malabar Church is Catholic in faith, oriental in worship and Indian in culture.”
The Syro-Malabar Church in North America
At present, there are over 200,000 Syro-Malabar Catholics in the United States of America and Canada. Majority of them arrived since the late 1960’s on account of immigration of professionals in search of better opportunities. Wherever they settled in the new land, they held on to their unique Catholic faith, Syro-Malabar traditions, family values, focus on children, importance of family prayer, and significance of education, which continue characterize this community even today. During the early days, the spiritual needs of the North American Syro-Malabar community were met primarily by the visiting/student priests from India. Over time, as our numbers grew, local communities began forming Syro-Malabar Catholic Missions, which later evolved into full-fledged Catholic parishes, operating in conjunction with the local Diocese and the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. In recognition of the strength of their faith, growth, and significance as a Catholic community in North America, His Holiness Pope John Paul II established St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago in 2001, with Mar Jacob Angadiath as the Bishop of the Diocese. Since then, the diocese has established several parishes and missions in different parts of the country.