A gift to help faith flourish

By Simon Hart

The Syro-Malabar community in Litherland have inaugurated their own parish church thanks to the ‘generosity and hospitality’ of the Archdiocese

For one Catholic church in Litherland, the feast of Our Lady, Queen of Peace this month will hold a special meaning.

This, after all, will be the first feast day at the eponymous church since its inauguration as a centre of worship for the area’s Syro-Malabar community. The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church originated in the state of Kerala in southern India and 12 May brought the inauguration of Our Lady’s as only its second church in this country – a gift from the Archdiocese of Liverpool.

‘It is purely down to the generosity and hospitality of the Archbishop and all of the priests,’ said a grateful Father Jino Arikkatt, the new parish priest there, in the wake of the inauguration Mass, which he celebrated with Bishop Joseph Srampickal, the senior Syro-Malabar cleric in Britain, as well as the Archbishop of Liverpool, Malcolm McMahon, Bishop Tom Williams and Father Mark Madden.

Archbishop Malcolm said:  I was delighted to be able to give Bishop Joseph Srampickal and the Syro-Malabar community the Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace, in Litherland to use as their centre in the Archdiocese. This is only their second permanent home in England following the opening of the Cathedral of St Alphonsa in Preston.

‘It was a privilege to be present at the inauguration,’ he added, ‘and to be able to formally welcome the community to the Archdiocese. With over 200 families in the area they now have a home which will help them greatly in their worship and spiritual life.’

According to Fr Arrikkatt, the presence of so many families means as many as one thousand people could use the church, which had previously been amalgamated with English Martyrs in Litherland. In his homily Archbishop Malcolm said the faith would flourish again at Our Lady’s which, as Fr Arrikatt explained, will continue to host ‘three English Masses a week’. Its church and presbytery both underwent renovations ahead of the inauguration and Fr Arrikatt added: ‘Work is now being done on the parish club. Every year we have festivals and 8 July is the feast of Our Lady, Queen of Peace so we have a special Mass on that day and a social gathering.’

It was in July 2016 that Pope Francis established the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain – only the third eparchy, or diocese, outside of India. The Cathedral of St Alphonsa in Preston was consecrated and Bishop Srampickal appointed. There are more than four million followers of the Syro-Malabar Church – with over 30 priests in this country celebrating Masses in local parishes with large Indian communities.

Fr Arrikatt, from the Missionary Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, is grateful for the welcome he received when he first came to Liverpool – and the support from the Archdiocese that has been ongoing up to now.

‘I’ve been here the last two and a half years and when I came here to Liverpool it was Vincent Malone, the emeritus bishop, who came to pick me up at the railway station,’ he said. ‘I was staying with [lay preacher] Myles Dempsey, who has just sadly passed away, at St Joseph’s Convent. With the help of the Archbishop I was then given accommodation in St Leo’s presbytery in Whiston.’

Detailing the process that led to his community gaining their new church, he added: ‘During this time I was requesting a church for ourselves and in March 2017, the Archbishop called me to express his will to give us this church as a gift and it took us around a year to complete the process. I remember also the help of Bishops Tom William and Vincent Malone, and the chancellor Canon Aidan Prescott and finance adviser Father Sean Kirwin. We would like to extend our thanks to both of those priests.

‘When we came here to Litherland, Fr Mark Madden was here and was so happy to welcome us.’ Fr Madden was one of the priests who – following the Indian tradition – lit a lamp at the 12 May inauguration Mass, which also featured the confirmation of 10 schoolchildren.

Fr Arrikatt added: ‘After lighting the beacon, we had the message from our head, Cardinal George Alamchery, and then we started the installation of the relics of saints and then the Mass. During the Mass the homily was given by the Archbishop.

‘The Archbishop said in his homily it was not his generosity but his responsibility to give us a church of our own. The church would have closed but it’s now a home for the people here to come every day for Mass, so through giving us this church it has kept the church alive.’

The Syro-Malabar tradition
The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is said to owe its origins to St Thomas the Apostle, who landed at Kodungallur in Kerala, India in 52 AD and established Christian communities in different parts of India prior to his martyrdom 20 years later. In full communion with the Apostolic See in Rome, it is one of 23 Eastern Catholic Churches – second in size only to the Ukrainian Catholic Church – and follows the East-Syrian liturgy which dates back to the third century. The newly inaugurated parish at Our Lady, Queen of Peace in Litherland can expect a sizeable congregation according to its first parish priest, Fr Jino Arrikatt, who said: ‘We have more than 200 families which means around 1,000 people.’