|Interview With Syro-Malabar Cardinal Vithayathil
KERALA, India, 21 MAY 2008 (ZENIT)
An antidote to the challenges
facing the Church and society today is the glorification of Mary through
the proclamation of a fifth Marian dogma, says Cardinal Varkey
Vithayathil of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.
Cardinal Vithayathil, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Archdiocese
of Ernakulam-Angamaly, is one of the five cardinals who sent a letter in
January inviting prelates worldwide to join them in petitioning Benedict
XVI to declare a fifth Marian dogma they said would "proclaim the full
Christian truth about Mary."
The text includes the petition that asks the Pope to proclaim Mary as
"the Spiritual Mother of All Humanity, the co-redemptrix with Jesus the
redeemer, mediatrix of all graces with Jesus the one mediator, and
advocate with Jesus Christ on behalf of the human race."
In this interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Vithayathil, who turns 81 on May
29, comments on the effect the proclamation of the dogma could have on
interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, and the possible fruits he
foresees could result.
The Syro-Malabar Church is made up of about 3.5 million of India's 16
Q: Does the Syro-Malabar rite have a particularly generous devotion to
Cardinal Vithayathil: Yes, the Syro-Malabar Catholics have a great
tradition of intense devotion to Our Lady. There is a belief among them
that the apostle St. Thomas who first preached the Gospel to their
ancestors had brought with him a replica of the picture of the Blessed
Virgin supposedly painted by the Evangelist Luke. Centuries before the
Portuguese missionaries arrived, there were many churches dedicated to
Our Lady in Malabar.
It is true that some of the liturgical books brought down from Babylon
by some of the Chaldean bishops contained certain Nestorian formulae,
but these in no way lessened the Marian devotion of the Syro-Malabar
Catholics who were never greatly concerned with the great theological
and Christological disputes.
Pope John Paul II has asserted that the Syro-Malabar Catholics were
never formally separated from the Sea of St. Peter during the 20
centuries of their existence.
During the three centuries that the Latin Carmelite bishops from Europe
ruled the Syro-Malabar Church, there was a deepening of devotion to Our
Lady among the Syro-Malabars. Practically every member of the community
wore the brown Carmelite scapular and recited the family rosary
In the apostolic constitution "Romani Pontifices," which erected the
Syro-Malabar hierarchy, Pope Pius XI gives as a reason for the
flourishing of the community the singular devotion of the Syro-Malabar
faithful toward the Blessed Virgin Mary ("Singularem erga Beatissimam
Virginem Mariam pietatem").
I believe that this Marian devotion is the reason why today 70% of all
missionaries in India are children of the Syro-Malabar Church, and this
Church with a population of only 3.8 million faithful can ordain 250
priests every year.
Q: Why do you think that the time is opportune for the declaration of a
fifth Marian dogma?
Cardinal Vithayathil: Mary has through private revelations like those at
Lourdes, Fatima, etc., made known that in the sad situations of the
world today God wishes as an antidote the glorification of his mother
through the recitation of the holy rosary, devotion to the Immaculate
Heart of Mary, etc.
The fifth Marian dogma would certainly improve the world situation
through the prayers of Mary to her divine Son. Many believe that the
danger of Marxist Communism was averted by the apparitions of Mary at
Lourdes, Fatima, etc., and the consequent increase in devotion to Mary.
The greatest threat that the Catholic Church faces today is consumerist
relativism that has greatly affected the Western Church and even the
Churches in Asia. I believe that it can be overcome by honoring Our Lady
with the proposed dogma.
Q: The principal objection posed against the solemn definition of a
fifth Marian dogma is the Church’s mission of ecumenism. Do you think
this Marian declaration would hurt the ecumenical cause for the Church?
Cardinal Vithayathil: Not only will the solemn definition never hurt the
ecumenical movement, but it will positively enhance it. I feel that it
is God’s will that we should honor Our Lady in a special way at this
juncture of world history. Only good can come out of doing God’s will.
We should follow prudence born out of faith and not merely worldly
Almighty God is the Lord of history and he can always overcome the
effects of disunity caused by human weakness. The Hindu communities in
India are extremely open to the concept of "Mother," and they
enthusiastically participate in the Marian devotions of the Catholic
Church. The Orthodox Churches with whom we live together, already
believe in this doctrine.
Q: As major archbishop of an Eastern Church, do you believe a new Marian
dogma would hurt East-West relations, or distance our relationship with
the Orthodox Church?
Cardinal Vithayathil: I can say that any honor given to Mary short of
adoration given only to God will not cause any setback in
Catholic-Orthodox relations because the contents of the proposed dogma
is already part of the faith of the Orthodox Christians, though not
dogmatically expressed. It may sour Catholic-Protestant relations, but
Our Lady knows how to heal this.
The truth of the proposed definition is in a true sense derived from
God’s choice of Mary as the mother of God and the mother of all human
Q: What fruits do you foresee for the Church and the world coming from a
solemn definition of Mary’s spiritual motherhood in her roles as co-redemptrix,
mediatrix of all graces and advocate?
Cardinal Vithayathil: I foresee many fruits for the Church and the world
as a result of the solemn definition of this dogma. It will bring more
peace built on justice in the world. It will give a new spurt to
evangelization. It will bring about greater devotion to Mary and
confidence in her intercessory power.
It will make Catholics realize that just as Mary, through the merits of
Jesus Christ, has become co-redemptrix, mediatrix of all graces and
advocate for the whole human race, we too share in Mary’s threefold
roles for the salvation of humankind.
Even though the content of the proposed definition is clearly taught by
the Fathers and doctors of the Church, such as St. Alphonsus Liguori in
his work “Glories of Mary,” an infallible definition by the Pope will
help deepen the confidence of the people of God in Mary’s role as co-redemptrix,
mediatrix of all graces and advocate.