Indian Catholics March Through Elmhurst to Show Solidarity for Preserving Their Traditions
The peaceful rally passed in front of the Elmhurst home of Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath of the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese.
Hundreds of members of the Syro-Malabar Knanaya Catholic Church, a Catholic group that originates in India, held a peaceful protest Sunday in Elmhurst. They marched by the hundreds down St. Charles Road, past the Elmhurst home of Syro-Malabar Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath.
The purpose of the rally was to show solidarity among the Knanaya community; all are committed to preserving their community's traditions, which began in India 1,700 years ago.
The coordinator for the rally, whose name is Sciens (pronounced Sheens), said his church community originally migrated from the Middle East to India.
"We migrated to India to strengthen the church in India," said Sciens, whose name in Latin means, "One Who Knows."
"Ever since we migrated to India, we always had our own eccliastical systems," he said.
Today, those traditions are in jeopardy in the United States, he said.
"Our identity is maintained by members being born into the Knanaya community," he said. "Marriages in the church have to be between Knanaya man and Knanaya woman. That is the way the communities have been for hundreds of years."
He said when they established their eccliastic structures here in the U.S., they had expected they would be allowed to maintain those traditions.
"Recently, through an order, we were told that our community's traditions—membership in our churches—is not consistent with Catholic church traditions," he said. "We are trying to show the church they are not correct."
In the 1980s, 15 to 20 families raised an issue with the Catholic Church, saying the Knanayas were not inclusive. They presented the church as discriminatory.
Sciens said the church does not discriminate. Anyone is allowed to take sacrament or receive pastoral care through the church,
"The only thing we are saying is that when we create a personal parish for our community, that community identity must be protected in that particular parish because that's how we've always existed," he said. "That is our appeal and our plea."
"We were hoping all along that things would change—especially since the Syro-Malabar church came to existence in the United States," he said.
Members at the rally were from New York, Los Angeles and everywhere in between—hundreds of devotees—and all from the same family.
When asked if he was meeting new people from his church community at the rally, Sciens said, "No, we all know each other because we marry within the community. It's a huge family. That's why it's very difficult for us to accept a different system in our churches."
The Knanaya church includes a total of about 5,000 families, almost 20,000 people, he said. Members who choose to marry outside the Knanaya family are not considered part of the Knanaya family, however they can still receive sacrament, pastoral care and be welcome in the church.
But it's important to retain their traditions, Sciens said.
"Within this church, we have our own uniqueness," he said. "We're a mixture of Jewish, Indian and Christian traditions. We are kind of an interesting community, actually."
He said the goal of the march was not to protest, but rather to "make our plight known to the diocese and show we are united as a community," he said. "If it was a two-year tradition, we wouldn't worry, but it's 1,700 years. It's very difficult to change that. It's not possible. It's very easy to give it up, but it would take another 1,700 years to build it back up."
He said the community feels hurt by the Catholic church's decisions not to allow the Knanaya traditions.
"We have always been extremely helpful to the church. That was our original mission when we migrated to India, as well," he said.
"We would like to find a permanent, sustainable solution, because it affects not only Knanaya Catholics in the United States, but also all over the world."