Hundreds of people gathered on Wednesday evening to celebrate the ordination of Bishop John Panamthottathil CMI as the second shepherd of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle in Melbourne.
Bishops from India, Europe and the United States, as well as 20 members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, were among those who attended the ordination and installation ceremony.
Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, served as Bishop Panamthottathil’s principal consecrator. Bishop Bosco Puthur, the first Syro-Malabar Bishop in Australia, and Bishop Remigius Inchananiyil of Thamarasserry, India, were the co-consecrators.
“The Eparchy of Melbourne is getting today a new pastor in the person of Msgr John Panamthottathil,” Cardinal Alencherry said, noting that the new bishop’s May 31 birthday coincided with his “birth as a bishop”.
Cardinal Alencherry said the role of a bishop is “to create unity and peace in the Christian community by preaching the Word of God” and by teaching.
“At the present time of the Church,” he said, a bishop has to function “keeping in mind the principle of synodality for communion, participation and mission.
“May the Lord grant Msgr John Panamthottathil all the graces needed to exercise this important office in the Church.”
Cardinal Alencherry thanked the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for advocating for the establishment of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy almost a decade ago, and for their ongoing assistance.
“The presence of a good number of bishops here from the ACBC for this liturgical celebration manifests the continued support and collegiality” of the Australian bishops for the eparchy, he said.
Bishop Panamthottathil now joins those bishops as a member of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. The Eparchy covers all of Australia, as well as New Zealand and the countries of Oceania.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, who invited Bishop Panamthottathil to serve in the Archdiocese of Brisbane from 2015 to 2020, preached the homily.
“Trying to chart a course for the Syro-Malabar Church in a culture so very different from anything in India has its own dangers and difficulties,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Failing to engage local culture in an effort to preserve Syro-Malabar identity is one danger; losing the distinctiveness of Syro-Malabar identity in an effort to engage local culture is another.
“The Syro-Malabar bishop in the Antipodes has to tread a wise and sensitive middle path, and that can be difficult.”
Bishop Panamthottathil said he will address that and other tasks in his ministry with the help of God.
“Looking at what has happened to me today, and seeing all of you gathered here, I can only say, like King David, ‘Who am I God? And what is my house, that you may have brought me to this point?’,” he said.
“This question will remain in my mind for a long time and maybe forever. And I can only be consoled by the promise of God to St Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you.’
“I give thanks to my loving God who has qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. In spite of my unworthiness, God has called me to the office of bishop and God alone knows why he chose me…”
At the conclusion of the celebration, Bishop Panamthottathil joined Cardinal Alencherry, Bishops Conference president Archbishop Timothy Costelloe SDB and members of the Syro-Malabar community in paying tribute to Bishop Puthur, who led the Eparchy since 2014.
“Tonight we are celebrating the fact that, for the last nine years, Bishop Bosco has worked tirelessly and courageously and creatively to ensure that the richness of the Syro-Malabar spirituality and liturgical tradition and customs becomes more and more a part of the life of the Church here in Australia,” Archbishop Costelloe said, thanking Bishop Puthur for his contribution over that period.
With thanks to the ACBC.