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An Eastern-rite community grows closer to Christ in a Latin-rite Church in Clifton

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Christian hymns from India echo in St. Andrew Church in Clifton on Sundays at 4 p.m. 

New parishes can relate to the St. Jude Syro-Malabar Catholic Community of Northern Virginia’s struggle to find a place of their own. Before their relocation to St. Andrew, the St. Jude Community rented space at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Centreville to celebrate Mass.

"When I see them kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it brings a great deal of joy to my heart, because it assures me that our culture and traditions wouldn’t be extinct with us, but will carry on to our future generations." Jophy Jose, a parishioner of St. Jude Syro-Malabar Catholic Community of Northern Virginia

“Almost all members of our community grew up in established Catholic churches in India and were used to the serene Catholic church ambiance and environment which was lacking in the Lutheran Church,” said Jophy Jose, a parishioner of the St. Jude Community.

“We didn’t feel like we were in a church. The children would play around,” said Father Justin Puthussery, pastor of the St. Jude Community. 

Once the community of 250 families arrived at St. Andrew Church, Father Puthussery said the playing stopped and participation increased. He believes having the real presence of the Eucharist in a permanent place is the reason. Jose said the biggest change is the children's reverence.

“When I see them kneel in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it brings a great deal of joy to my heart, because it assures me that our culture and traditions wouldn’t be extinct with us, but will carry on to our future generations,” said Jose.

The St. Jude Community celebrated its first Mass at St. Andrew Church on the feast of St. Thomas, July 3, 2016, commemorating when the apostle evangelized their ancestors in India in AD 52. Syro-Malabar-rite Catholics are the second largest of the 23 Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, and its name comes  from the Syriac language (a form of Aramaic) that St. Thomas introduced in the region where he preached — the Malabar Coast (modern-day Kerala). As with all Eastern rites, the Syro-Malabar rite expresses the Catholic faith in its own language and tradition. 

Courtesy PhotoThe relocation allows the community to catechize its 170 children in the classrooms at St. Andrew and celebrate Mass every Sunday.

The arrangement between the Arlington Diocese and the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago permits the St. Jude Community temporary use of the facilities for six months, starting last September. They will renew their agreement soon. Father Puthussery hopes to purchase land to build a church or purchase an older church to renovate within two years.

“They are a separate parish using our facilities from a different diocese,” said Father Christopher J. Mould, pastor of St. Andrew. “(Father Puthussery) is very thoughtful. He helps with confessions and helps the diocese as a part-time chaplain for INOVA Hospital in Fairfax.”

Though the community celebrates weekly Mass and holds religious education classes St. Andrew, Christmas and Easter provide scheduling dilemmas. This Easter, the St. Jude Community celebrated Mass at Liberty High School in Bealeton. Weekday Masses are offered at Corpus Christi Church in South Riding.

Father Puthussery said there are elements of St. Andrew that do not resemble a Syro-Malabar church such as a second altar (for the readings) and a curtain to separate the congregation from the tabernacle. 

“That’s the trouble when we don’t have our own facility,” said Father Puthussery. “Once we get a church, the spirits of the people go up.”  

Before the move, Father Puthussery was known as the “driving priest” for celebrating Sunday Mass in Richmond and Northern Virginia. The Syro-Malabar community is scattered, which often prevents them from attending Mass regularly in their tradition. Because most are immigrants, they are uninformed about the differences between Christian churches in the area. 

“We had trouble, people were going to a Baptist church,” he said. When St. Andrew is too far, Father Puthussery encourages his parishioners to attend a nearby Latin-rite church.

“St. Andrew Church was the first Latin church, (at which) I concelebrated when I moved (from India),” he said. 

While the two parishes use the facilities of one church, they demonstrate St. John Paul II’s words of reconnecting Western and Eastern Christianity, “The Church must breathe with her two lungs.”

Find out more

For more information on Indian Catholic communities in the area, go to the diocesan Office of Multicultural Ministries.; about  the St. Jude Syro-Malabar Catholic Community of Northern Virginia., go to stjudenva.org.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017