St.Francis Xavier of


St.Tome in Chennai

 Mother Teresa


Christianity is believed to have spread to India in the first century itself through St. Thomas, one of the twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. The traditional belief is that St. Thomas came to India from Persia (Parthia) by sea route in 52 A.D, baptized many, established seven Christian settlements in Kerala and after baptising many in Mylapore died in 72 AD. In course of time, the community at Mylapore became extinct for want of follow-up action and hostility of the high case Hindus. Through St. Thomas, the church in Persia came into contact with the Indian church. In 345 A.D, and East Syrian group from Edessa under the leadership of a trader Kinai Thomman (Thomas of Cana) migrated to India. Later, another group with two bishops Mar Sapor and Mar Aphrod came to Quilon and settled there. The monarchs of the country greeted these migrants and granted many privileges to them. One bishop named John of India is seen to have attended the first General Council of the church at Niceae. This St. Thomas Christian Church flourished under royal patronage and now remains an influential community numbering about eight million spread over in different denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and other independent groups) in Kerala and the Diaspora. The groups in the Catholic church come under two Rites known as the Syro Malabar Rite and the Syro Malankara Rite. The pioneers in the establishment of the Latin Rite in India are Fransciscan John of Monte Corvin (1291) in Mylapore, Jordan Catalani of Severac in Kollam (who was later appointed Bishop of India and the East with Headquarters at Kollam by Pope John XXII in 1329, but he was murdered on his way back to Kollam) and the Portuguese in the 16th century. The Jesuits under the leadership of St. Francis Xavier the second Apostle to India, Martyr St. John De Britto (Arulanandar) and several others made strenuous efforts to christianise India. The Latin hierarchy in India was established by Pope Leo XIII in 1886 with six Archdioceses and ten dioceses.




State/ Union Territory


  Number Percentage
Andhra Pradesh   12,16,348   1.83
Arunachal Pradesh              89,013 10.29
Assam      7,44,367    3.32
Bihar      8,43,717   0.98
Goa      3,49,225 29.86
Gujarat      1,81,753   0.44
Haryana         15,699   0.10
Himachal Pradesh           4,435    0.09 
Karnataka      8,59,478     1.91
Kerala      56,21,510     19.32
Madhya Pradesh      4,26,598   0.65
Maharashtra      8,85,030   1.12
Manipur      6,26,669 34.11
Meghalaya     11,46,092  64.58
Mizoram      5,91,342 85.73
Nagaland      10,57,940 87.47
Orissa      6,66,220   2.10
Punjab      2,25,163   1.11
Rajasthan         47,989        0.11        
Sikkim         13,413   3.30
Tamilnadu    31,79,410 


Tripura          46,472   1.68
Uttar Pradesh      1,99,575   0.14
West Bengal       3,83,477   0.56
Andaman & Nicobar Island          67,211 23.95
Chandigarh            5,030   0.78
Dadra & Nagar Haveli              2,092   1.51
Daman & Diu             2,904   2.86
Delhi            83,152   0.88
Lakshadweep                598      1.16 
Pondicherry          58,362   7.23 
Total 1,96,40,284  

Source: Census of India 1991



( Source: The Catholic Directory of India  2005-06  )

The Indian church is a communion of three individual Churches: Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara.

 I.               THE LATIN CHURCH

The presence of the Latin Church in India, particularly on the coast of Quilon (kollam) has protracted over eleven centuries or more.  

However, the work of evangelization was enthusiastically revived by the western missionaries in the 13th century. The western records of the Franciscans and Dominicans contain the evidence of the early Latin Missions in India. Giovanni di Monte Corvine, O.F.M., Jordan Catalani, O.P., Odorico di Pordenone, O.F.M., and Giovanni di Marignolli, O.F.M., were the outstanding protagonists.

They testify the existence of Christian community at Mylapore and Quilon. Giovanni di Monte Corvino spent slightly over a year in Mylapore (1292-93) and other places on the Coromandel and Malabar coasts. Four Franciscans were martyred in Thana, near Mumbai, in 1321. Jordan Catalani de Sevrac, O.P., was the first resident foreign Catholic missionary in India.

Pope John XXII, in recognition of the zeal of Jordan, erected the Diocese of Quilon with the Cathedral Church on August 9, 1329, and nominated him as the first Latin Bishop of Quilon. The extent of the See comprised all the medieval mission regions of Indian and Southeast Asia. Odoric di Prodenone, O.F.M., and “Giovanni di Marignoli, O.F.M., who have come as Papal Legate to the East, in the 14th century, on their return journey stayed at Quilon for several months.

The arrival of the Portuguese missionaries came at the time of the exploration of the Malabar Coast by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, opening a new jurisdiction of the Portuguese Padroado in the field of Mission. Cochin and Goa became two main settlements of Portuguese in the 16th century. As a result, the City of Goa was erected as suffragan to Lisbon. The first Bishop in India was Joao Alfonso de Albuquerque, O.F.M., who arrived in Goa in 1538. by 1558 Goa became an Archdiocese with Cochin and Malaca as suffragans. This was at the height of the famous Padroado of the Portuguese.

Aside from communities of Christians in Goa, Mylapore, Travancore, Madurai, Vasai and Mumbai, Missionaries made their way into the interior as far as Bengal, Agra, Delhi, Lahore and to Tibet. The first of these missionaries were Franciscans, Followed by Jesuits.

St. Francis Xavier arrived in Goa in 1542, and worked also in Cochin, Vasai and Mylapore. Dominicans arrived in India in the mid-16th century, founding establishments in Goa and Cochin, followed by the Augustinians who came from Persia in 1572, also settling in Goa, but also taking up the task of working among the Muslim populations in Bengal.

Evangelization took on a new impetus when the Jesuits began their mission to the Moghul Empire, at the invitation of Akbar. The Jesuits enjoyed limited success in this mission until the reign of Shah Jahan, who reversed the previous stance of religious toleration in the Moghul Empire. Nonetheless, settlements of Catholics were begun in Agra, Delhi, Lahore, Patna, Jaipur and Nawar. The Empire was also the starting point for the famous missions to Tibet. As the power and prestige of the Portuguese settlements in India wanted, the missions in coastal areas suffered. When the Jesuits were suppressed in Portugal (1759), they were also driven out of India. Later in the early 19th century, Portugal suppressed all religious Orders and this too had a dire effect on the Padroado in India.

The foundation of the Congregation of Propaganda Fide on January 6, 1662, by Pope Gregory XV introduced a new epoch in mission history. In an attempt to shore up the strength of the mission territories in India (and also in Asia), noting the weakness of Portugal, the Holy see began to erect Vicariates Apostolic under the jurisdiction of Propaganda Fide. The first of these Vicariates was that of Deccan (erected in 1637 in what is now Mumbai), followed by that of Malabar (erected in 1659, now Verapoly). The erection of these Vicariates, independent of the control of Portugal, increased the tensions between the Padroado and Propaganda. This unfortunate system lasted until 1928, although the Padroado system was previously annulled by the Pope Gregory XVI in the early 19th century, but restored with the Concordat of 1886.

By the turn of the 17th century, Carmelites, Theatines, Hospitallers and Oratorinas arrived. Again it is to be noted that all these missionaries were attached to the Portuguese settlements which were mostly in the coastal regions.

The Latin Hierarchy of India was erected by Pope Leo XIII, on 1 September 1886, through the bull “Humanae Salutis”, with 6 Metropolitan Archdioceses: Agra, Bombay, Calcutta , Madras, Pondicherry and Verapoly, and 10 dioceses: Allahabad, Cochin, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Krishnagar, Mysore, Pune, Quilon, Tiruchirapalli and Visakhapatnam and Patna continued to function as a Vicariate. Thus, when the Hierachy was established in 1886 there were 17 ecclesiastical units under Propaganda and two units-the Archdiocese of Goa (was given the title of Patriarch of East Indies) and the Diocese of  Mylapore – under the Padroado. The two Apostolic Vicariates for the Syrian Catholic were erected in Trichur and Kottayam on May 20, 1887.

The Indian Missionary bishops in 1944 formed the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). Portugal gradually renounced its missionary patronage in India. In 1950 the Portuguese Padroado was suppressed.  

On January 26, 1951, Pope Pius XII declared the Mother of God patroness of the country, and in the consistory of January, 12, 1953, His Grace Valerian Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, was created the first Indian Cardinal.

On November 1964, Pope Paul VI visited India on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress, held in Bombay. Pope John Paul II visited India for the first time for 10 days in 1986, and again in November 1999, his 89th Apostolic visit outside Italy, for the occasion of solemnly promulgating in the Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia”, in New Delhi.

Pope John Paul II, by his letter, dated May 28, 1987, to the Bishop of India, determined that the bishops of each of the three Rites have the right to establish their own Episcopal bodies according to their own ecclesiastical legislation. The three ritual bodies are: Conference of Catholic Bishop’ in India(CCB() for the Latin Rite, Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod (SMBS) and Syro-Malankara Bishops’ Conferences (SMBC).


The Syro-Malabar Church traces its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, who, according to tradition, came to India in 52 A.D., its members being called St. Thomas Christians. It is one of the four Oriental Churches having in common the East Syrian Liturgical tradition, the others being those of Edessa, Seleucia-Ctesiphon and Persia. On account of this common heritage the Syro-Malabar Church continued its hierarchical relations with the Chaldean Churches under the Catholicate of Seleucia-Ctesiphon.  

Dependent upon the Church of East Syria, the “Metropolitan of all India” and the other bishops were ordained by the Syro-Oriental Patriarch of Mesopotamia and sent to the Churches in India. Eventually, an Indian prelate with the title of Archdeacon exercised the administrative functions delegate by the Metropolitan.

Tradition also holds that in the year 345 A.D., a certain Thomas Cana from Mesopotamia settled in Malabar with a number of families giving fresh life to the St. Thomas Christians. Over the centuries, it seems that these two diverse groups remained apart, namely is, the Indians converted by St. Thomas (Northists) and the descendants of Thomas Cana (Southists). The Southists presently constitute the Eparchy of Kottayam, an Eparchy of personal jurisdiction for Southists.  

The succession of Syro-Oriental Metropolitans was interrupted only at the end of the 16th century with the colonizing policy of the Portuguese and the death of the last Metropolitan, Abraham in 1597. Without doubt, with the arrival of the Portuguese, the state of the St. Thomas Christians was not good. Increased isolation from the mother Church in Persia had left the Church in India in a state of spiritual weakness. With the Synod of Diamper in June 1599, the St. Thomas Christians were place under the care of a Latin bishop. The activities of the Latin missionaries in the fields of seminary formation and education did much to raise the level of the clergy and the vitality of the Church. However, the Latin missionaries did not understand the value of the Oriental rite and patrimony and the St. Thomas Christians, suspecting them of heresy, started a process of latinization in the field of liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and the hierarchical structure of the Church.

After years of unrest, a weakening of ecclesiastical discipline became serious, in January 1653, in the famous “Coonan Cross Declaration” at Mattancherry, the St. Thomas Christians took the oath not to obey the ruling Latin Bishop. This was the starting point of division among the Christians who were one Church till that time. Though most of the Thomas Christians gradually relented in their strong opposition to the Western control, the arrival of the Jacobite Bishop Mar Gregory from Persia in 1665 marked the beginning of a formal schism among the Thomas Christians. Those who accepted the Jacobitism of Mar Gregory became know as the New Party (Puthankuttukar) and remained outside of communion with Rome to this day. The old Party (Pazhayakuttukur) has remained in communion with Rome and constitutes the Syro-Malabar Church.  

In 1887, Pope Leo XIII created for the Syro-Malabar faithful the first Vicariates of Kottayam and Trichur, but the Vicars Apostolic appointed for them were of the Latin Rite.

It was only in 1896 when the two Vicariates were reorganized into the three Vicariates of Changanacherry, Ernakulam and Trichur, that the Syro-Malabar Church received Vicars Apostolic of its own rite. In 1911 the Vicariate of Kottayam was recreated, this time exclusively for the Suddists of the Syro-Malabar Rite, descendants of the colony of emigrants from Edessa, Syria, in 345 Ad under Thomas of Cana. 

After 230 years of Latin rule, on December 21, 1923 Pope Pius XI established the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy in India with Ernakulam as the Metropolitan See and Changanacherry and Trichur as its suffragans; Kottayam was also raised to the status of a diocese. On June 11, 1932 as a result of the Reunion Movement inaugurated by Mar Ivanios, the Syro-Malankara Hierarchy was established by Pope Pius XI, comprising the Archdiocese of Trivandrum and the suffragan diocese of Tiruvalla.

From 1950 onwards the Syro-Malabar Church and its jurisdiction was gradually extended in Kerala and beyond by means of division of the old dioceses and establishment of new exarchates and dioceses. The need for giving pastoral care to the emigrants of the Syro-Malabar Church necessitated establishment of the diocese of  Tellicherry in 1953 and he territorial extension of the dioceses of Changanacherry and Trichur in 1955. in 1956 the diocese of Changanacherry was made as Archdiocese.

Syro-Malabar Church exarchates were established in mission territories from 1962 onwards which later became dioceses. There are 26 Syro-Malabar dioceses today, 15 of them in South India, 10 in the northern part of India and one in N. America; and there are 36 million Syro- Malabar Catholics. On December 16, 1992, through the constitution “Quae Maiori”, Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church and Cardinal Antony Padiyara, the Archbishop of Ernakulam was appointed the first Archbishop Major and was given the title Archbishop Major of Ernakulam+Angamaly with the two metropolitan Provinces of Ernakulam and Changanacherry as his “territorium proprium”. Archbishop Abraham Kattumana, until then Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in Ghana, Togo and Benin was appointed as Pontifical Delegate to complete the process with the powers of Archbishop Major exercised by him temporarily. On May 20, 1993 Cardinal Antony Padiyara was installed as Archbishop Major.

On December 18, 1999 H.E. Mar Varkey Vithayathil was appointed Major Archbishop by Pope John Paul II. He was installed Major Archbishop on January 26, 2000. He was created Cardinal in the consistory on February 21, 2001.

According to the decision of the Holy See 15 of the dioceses are considered to be the proper territory of the Syro-Malabar Major Archbishop. They are Belthangady, Changanacherry, Ernakulam-Angamaly, Irinjalakuda, Kanjirapally, Kothamangalam, Idukki, Kottayam, Mananthavady, Palai, Palghat, Tellicherry, Thamarasserry, Thuckalay and Trichur. He has full authority only over these 15 dioceses. Out of these 15 dioceses four are archdioceses. They are Ernakulam-Angamaly, Changanacherry, Trichur and Tellicherry. Every diocese within the proper territory is a suffragan of one of these archdioceses. The archdiocesan wise distribution is as follows: Ernakulam-Angamaly: Kothamangalam; Idukki; Changanacherry: Kottayam, Palai, Kanjirapally and Thuckalay; Trichur: Irinjalakuda and Palghat; Tellicherry: Mananthavady, Thamarasserry and Belthangady.

Eleven dioceses are outside the proper territory and they are directly under the Pope. Over them the Major Archbishop has only very limited authority. At the same time their bishops are members of the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod. These dioceses are not suffragans of any of the Syro-Malabar archdioceses but of the nearby Latin archdioceses. The eleven dioceses outside the proper territory are: Adilabad, Bihnor, Chanda, Gorakhpur, Jagdalpur, Kalyan, Rajkot, Sagar, Satna, Ujjain and St. Thomas Diocese in Chicago.

In the archdioceses and dioceses within the proper territory and in the dioceses of Kalyan and St. Thomas in Chicago the authority of the respective bishops is over the Syro-Malabar Catholics only. The authority over the Syro-Malankara and Latin Catholics of these areas are under the respective Syro-Malankara or Latin bishop. On the other hand in all other dioceses the authority of the Syro-Malabar bishop is exclusive. That is to say all Catholics, whether they are Syro-Malabarian, Syro-Malankarite or Latin living in these areas are under the Syro-Malabar bishop of the place. Similarly the Syro-Malabarians living in other areas are under the local bishop. For example the Syro-Malabarians even though they have many parishes in Bangalore are under the Latin archdiocese of Bangalore.

Malayatoor, traditionally known as the place of retreat of St. Thomas the Apostle who according to tradition evangelised Malabar in the first century, is declared an International Pilgrimage Centre by the Apostolic Nuncio to India, Archbishop Pedro Lopes Quintana February 13, 2005.

III.                    THE SYRO-MALANKARA CHURCH 

The St. Thomas Christian Community, founded in India by the year 52 AD., was further strengthened by a group of Christians immigrated from Persia in 345 AD., paving the way for further relationships with the Churches in the Persian Empire, some of which were founded by close disciples of St. Thomas. Hence both the Church in India and those of Persia were n close relationship with each other and in communion with other early apostolic communities.  

      The situation continued till the 16th century, when the Church in the West began to come in contact with the India Church through the Portuguese merchants and missionaries. These contacts were cordial in the beginning, but conflicts of different natures later, as a result of which the early community of Indian Christians in 1653 broke off their relationship with the Portuguese missionaries. The majority of them restored ecclesial relationship with the Portuguese hierarchy (Malabar Church) and the rest formed themselves into an independent ecclesial community and gradually got into an ecclesial relationship with the ancient Christian Church of Antioch (Malankara-Church). 

      From the Malankara Church there had always been attempts to restore communion with the Holy See of Rome and after 300 years of strenuous efforts, they, were crowned with success only in the first half of the 20th century. 

      In 1926 the Episcopal Synod of the Church of the “New Party” held at Parumala delegated Metropolitan Mar Ivanios to enter into negotiations with Rome in order to effect a reunion with the Catholic Church under the condition that the ancient and venerable traditions of the Malankara Church would be retained and kept intact. Pope Pius XI graciously accepted the conditions and welcomed the reunion.  

      Accordingly, on September 20, 1930 a representative group, headed by Archbishop Mar Ivanios and followed by Mar Teophilos, Rev Fr John Kuzhimpurath OIC, Deacon Alexander (later Fr Seraphion OIC) and Mr. Chacko Kilileth, made their Proffession of Faith and were duly received into the Catholic Communion by His Excellency Most Rev Dr. Maria Benziger, Bishop of Quilon, who was especially delegated by the Holy See for this purpose. The following day two Rembans, Most Rev Joseph Pulikottil and Most Rev Philipose Cheppad, also made their Profession of Faith and were likewise received into the Malankara Catholic Church. 

      In 1932 His Grace Mar Ivanios made his official visit to the Holy See of Rome and His Hokines Pope Pius XI invested him with the Sacred Pallium. With the Apostolic Constitution “Christo Pastorum Principi” of June 11, 1932 Pope Pius XI erected the Syro-Malankara Catholic Hierarchy comprising the Metrpolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum and the Eparchy of Tiruvalla.  

      The Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum was inaugurated on May 11, 1933 and His Grace Mar Ivanios was installed as its first Metropolitan. The Eparchy of Tiruvalla was inaugurated on November 6, 1933 and Most Rev Jacob Mar Theophilos was appointed as its first Bishop.

      The reunion of Archbishop Mar Ivanios with the Church Catholic was a historical event in the Church, which inspired many of the Malankara Thomas Christians including many bishops of the Orthodox Church. On November 29, 1937 Most Rev Joseph Severios of the Orthodox Church and on November 12, 1939 Most Rev Thomas Dioscorus, Metropolitan of the Knanaya Jacobite Church, were reunited with the Catholic Church.

      Under the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral leadership of Archbishop Mar Ivanios the Malankara Catholic Community was greatly strengthened in India and abroad. After a period of 22 years of strenuous and exhausting service to the Malankara Catholic Church Mar Ivanios fell sick for more than one year. During this time he consecrated His Excellency Most Rev Benedict Gregorios as his auxiliary on January 29, 1953. Mar Ivanios, the pioneer of the reunion movement passed away on July 15, 1953. 

      On January 27, 1955 Most Rev Benedict Gregorios was installed as the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum and he Head of the Syro-Malankara Hierarchy. At this time large numbers of people from other non-Catholic Malankara Churches reunited with the Catholic Church, and several parishes, missions, convents, schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions were established in different places. His Excellency Most Rev Paulose Philexinos, the Metropolitan of the Malabar Independent Church, was received into the Catholic Church as the Titular Bishop of Chayal on August 28, 1977. His Excellency Most Rev Lawrence Ephraem was appointed Auxiliary to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum on November 6, 1980 and was consecrated on December 27, 1980. 

      The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church has been steadily growing and spreading throughout India. The Eparchy of Bathery was erected on October 28, 1978, bifurcating the Eparchy of Tiruvalla. Most Rev Cyril Baselios was appointed as the first Bishop of the new Eparchy.  

      After 41 years of dedicated service Archbishop Benedict Gregorios, Head of the Malankara Catholic Church, passed away on October 10, 1994. His Excellency Most Rev Cyril Baselios, the then Bishop of Bathery, became the Apostolic Administrator of the Church. On November 6, 1955 he was appointed Metropolitan Archbishop of Trivandrum and Head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. His installation took place on December 14, 1955. 

      Bifurcating the Metropolitan Eparchy of Trivandrum, the Eparchy of Marthandom was erected on December 16, 1996 and Most Rev Lawrence Ephraem, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Trivandrum, was appointed as its first Bishop. 

      Thus in 1930, a small community from the Malankara Church regained communion with the Holy See and was recognized as the Malankara Catholic Church. It has today one Archdiocese and four dioceses, 6 Bishops, about 500 priests, 1,200 Religious men and women and 400,000 of faithful, leaving about 3 million people still in the Malankara non-Catholic Church.

      Since the Malankara Church had entertained ecclesia relationship with the Antiochen Church, it has adopted the Antochene Liturgy and canonical traditions, which, in turn, are very ancient and rooted in the apostolic traditions of the early oriental Churches. The ancient Antiochene Liturgy has been shaped on the Anaphora of St. James, which was in use in the Church of Jerusalem, where in fact our Lord held his Last Supper. The use of the Antiochene Liturgy for long in the Malankara Church has deeply influenced and shaped the ecclesial and spiritual life of the Malankara Church and one can say that liturgical celebration is central in its spirituality. The faithful of the Malankara Church, both Catholic and the non-Catholic, are spread all over India and outside.  

      On February 10, 2005 His Holiness Pope John Paul II has raised the Syro-Malankara Metropolitan Church sui iuris to the rank of Major Archiepiscopal Church and has promoted H.E. Cyril Mar Baselios Malancharuvil to the dignity of Major Archbishop.


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