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“The Carmelites influenced me a lot,” he recalls. “That led me to the Malankara Catholic Church. When I joined the seminary, I knew nothing about the difference between the communities. But I felt drawn to the priesthood.

“All the priests I met were very hard workers. Night and day, they used to work for the parish. They felt one with the community. That was what attracted me. It was not an ‘office’ type of priesthood. It was a priesthood that demanded they spend their whole lives for the people, and they did. That attracted me.”

After ordination, he traveled to Rome to study canon law. In 2010, after receiving his doctorate, one of his professors asked if he would be interested in relocating to the United States, where a jurisdiction for the Syro-Malankara Church had been established. Father Mathew eagerly agreed, and arrived in New York in 2011. Despite the great distance, he remains today deeply connected to the church in his homeland and the difficulties Christians there are facing.

“Hindu nationalism is a big challenge,” he says. “The vast majority of Hindus are peaceful people. They respect our religion. In India, almost 80 percent are Hindus, with Christians only 2 or 3 percent. Our bishops try to initiate dialogue with Hindus. Our intention is to make India a better place for everybody.”

Another concern, he says, is being able to spread the Gospel to other parts of India. The Syro-Malankara Church has jurisdiction to preach all over India, rather than just in the south. And “that is a blessing,” Father Mathew says. “It is an opportunity. We can do a lot of work in other parts of India.”

Yet, it is work pursued by a relative few — both in India and around the world.

“Our parishes are very small,” he emphasizes. “This means our parishes are not financially independent or stable. Some cannot even support a priest.” In fact, to support himself, in addition to running his parish in Yonkers, Father Mathew works as a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of New York.

Despite some of the daunting challenges, he remains optimistic about the future of his flock.

“We focus on families,” he says. “Our parents have a good hold on our youngsters and we try to reach out to the youngsters through the parents. Secondly, we have started numerous programs to educate our youth about the uniqueness of our liturgy, our traditions, our calling.

“Some of our youngsters feel drawn to big churches with many people, with more facilities we are not able to provide for them,” he says. “Our challenge now is to educate them. They have a unique vocation in the Catholic Church: to live to witness to our liturgy and to be witnesses of what it means to be Malankara Catholic in a different context, outside of India.”

Father Mathew knows that the next generation will continue the work of those who came before. What germinated some 2,000 years ago in the ancient soil of Antioch has spread to India and is continuing today in places as distinctive as Yonkers, New York.

In this way, the Syro-Malankara Church works to write its next chapter — and that of the historical Church of Antioch to which it belongs.

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