Message for the 90th Birthday
of His Grace Most Reverend Mar Archbishop Joseph Powathil
11 January 2020
I am pleased to contribute with these modest words to this commemorative volume honoring His Grace Mar Joseph Powathil, emeritus Archbishop of Changanacherry, on the auspicious occasion of his 90th birthday.
“Truth and Charity” is the motto of Archbishop Joseph Powathil. The Second Vatican Council describes the bishop as a man of dialogue, seeking out those of goodwill in a common pursuit of truth through a conversation marked by clarity and humility, and in a context of charity and friendship (Christus Dominus §13). The Code of Canon Law applies the same idea, describing the ecumenical responsibilities of the bishop as “to act with humanity and charity toward the brothers and sisters who are not in full communion with the Catholic Church” and “to foster ecumenism as it is understood by the Church (Can. 383 §3). The ecumenical task of the bishop therefore is to promote both the “Dialogue of Love” and the “Dialogue of Truth”.
The commitment to the dialogue with other Christians in “truth and charity” is one of the characteristics of the fruitful ministry of Mar Powathil, animated by the deep and sincere aspiration to respond to the Lord’s prayer for the unity of all his disciples. The whole life of His Grace is indeed an illustration of what the Second Vatican Council calls the “special duty of promoting the unity of all Christians” of the Oriental Catholic Churches, a vocation to be implemented particularly through “religious fidelity to the ancient Eastern traditions, by a greater knowledge of each other, by collaboration and a brotherly regard for objects and feelings” (Orientalium Ecclesiarum §24).
As an authentic disciple of the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Joseph has always been motivated by the conviction that the first condition for the ecumenical commitment of the Syro-Malabar Church is her fidelity to the rich heritage of the Syriac Orient, common to all the Churches of the Saint Thomas Christian tradition in India. His strenuous effort in promoting and teaching the Oriental patrimony, especially the East Syriac liturgical tradition and the Eastern spirituality, must be considered as his decisive contribution to the way towards unity of all Christians of the Syriac tradition in India.
Archbishop Powathil is not only a man of conviction but also a man of action. Many ecumenical projects in Kerala were initiated or inspired by him. One of these is the Nilackal Ecumenical Trust, a project started in 1982 by different Churches of the Saint Thomas Christian tradition in Kerala, serving as a place of worship and a platform promoting their common witness. Mar Powathil was also the founder and chairman of the Inter Church Council for Education, a joint endeavor of the Churches in Kerala to protect, promote and coordinate their educational institutions. The Christian Bishops’ Fellowship, a forum for ecumenical cooperation on the level of Bishops’ pastoral concerns, commenced in 1993 thanks to the vision and commitment of Archbishop Powathil.
Mention must especially be made of the substantial contribution of Mar Powathil to the theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian and the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Churches. Parallel theological dialogues have been established with each of these Churches, in 1989 with the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and in 1990 with the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church. Without the wisdom of Archbishop Powathil and the respect he enjoys among Catholics and Orthodox, they would not have seen the light of day. These dialogues are innovative not only because they have been maintained at a bilateral level despite the establishment in 2004 of the wider joint multilateral Catholic-Oriental Orthodox theological dialogue, of which these Churches are members, but also because they are both local and international, since a delegation of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity attends annually their meetings. Mar Powathil’s presence in these meetings has always been the assurance of intelligent debate, wise counsel and brotherly agreement.
On behalf of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, I wish to express our deep appreciation and admiration for the commitment of Archbishop Joseph Powathil to Christian unity in India.
On the happy occasion of his 90th birthday, I extend to him my heartfelt greetings and prayerful wishes. May our Lord grant him strength and abundant divine graces.