By Thandiwe Konguavi
Staff Writer

It was a truly Indian welcome for the supreme head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, who came to Edmonton for the consecration of the St. Alphonsa Syro-Malabar Forane Church.

Drumming and dancing, decorative red umbrellas shipped from India, children bearing bouquets of flowers, and women wearing colourful saris met Cardinal George Alencherry on July 29 as he arrived at the new church building, located at 9120 - 146 Street.

“We as a community, as a family, as a person, I’m very proud. It’s a day I need to honour in my life and the happiest day,” said parishioner Varkey Kalapurayil.

“This is the consecration of our church to Christ, and we are blessed because our cardinal, our major archbishop, the supreme head of our church, he’s here. So we are very happy. It shows that he’s behind us and before us.”

Cardinal Alencherry is the Major Archbishop of the 4.5 million Syro-Malabar Catholics around the world. It was his first visit to Edmonton.

The Syro-Malabar church was inaugurated in Edmonton in 2012, and parishioners met at St. Edmund Catholic Church until they had their own church. The building was previously owned by the Edmonton Chinese Alliance Church and renovations were completed by volunteers.

“We all are newcomers. We earn very little, but we contributed and we did our hard work day and night for this ceremony and today we made it,” said parishioner Teena Tojo.

Archbishop Richard Smith said the celebration was a great sign of the faith and the zeal that exists among the people.

“It was particularly striking to walk into the church at the beginning of the liturgy because all the transformation of this particular building was done by the local people here themselves, using all of their skills,” Smith said.

“So that whole sense of our call from baptism to place our gifts in the service of the church of God’s people was on full display here ... It was very, very exciting and moving and I was glad to be a part of it.”

About 700 people attend Holy Qurbana (Mass) at the church every Sunday, which is conducted in Malayamalam, the regional language of Kerala, India.

Under the leadership of Rev. John Kudiyiruppil, church membership has grown from about 150 – when he was appointed full-time pastor of the mission in 2014 – to more than 300 families who support the church financially today.

“Every night he sleeps hardly two or three hours,” Kalapurayil said of Father John. “His hard work and his commitment and his prayer life, he’s a real living example in front of us…and he’s a man of discipline.”

Over 80 per cent of the church’s members immigrated to Canada within the last 10 years. “When we came to Canada we had no idea what we were going to get, so we never expected any of this,” said Tojo. “It was there in our dreams but now it’s a reality.”

Bishop David Motiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton said he was particularly “delighted…as a fellow Eastern Christian or Eastern Catholic, to celebrate the diversity, the richness of the communion of the Catholic Church.

“To see the Holy Qurbana celebrated, the families gathering in prayer and the singing, was just marvellous. I’m pleased and excited for the growth and for the well-being of this parish and this church.”

The Syro-Malabar church traces its origin to St. Thomas, who founded seven Christian communities in Kerala, India, when he arrived around AD 52. St. Thomas was martyred in AD 72, near Chennai.