CNS PHOTO | MSGR. JOHN E. KOZAR, COURTESY OF CNEWA
Vocations to religious life in India's Eastern Catholic churches are strong and a sign that the missionary spirit of St. Thomas the Apostle flourishes there.
NEW YORK – Vocations to the priesthood and religious life in India are strong and a sign that the missionary spirit of St. Thomas the Apostle flourishes, said the president of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.
At multiple locations in southern India – in seminaries and houses of formation for men and women religious – Msgr. John Kozar said he was "blown away" by the quality and quantity of the candidates for religious life in the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara churches during his 12-day visit.
"The first impression when you walk into a huge seminary chapel or gathering hall is that you see 200, 300, 400 seminarians," Kozar said in an interview from his New York office.
"That in itself is a culture shock when you compare it to what you know here (in the United States).
"You're welcomed with big smiles. You're welcomed with songs and a warmth that reaches out and grabs you," he said.
St. Thomas was the only apostle to make his way to India and spread the Christian faith. After traveling through Syria and Persia, now Iran, he is believed to have sailed to India in AD 52, landing on the Malabar coast in what today is Kerala state. He was speared to death in AD 72 while praying.
CNEWA sponsors 2,134 seminarians and 857 men and women in formation for religious life in India. Hundreds more are in formation as well throughout the country.
With such a large number of men and women in formation, the two churches are able to send priests and sisters on missionary service to other countries, which Kozar said, he found an inspiration for his ministry.
"It's an ingrained part of the life of the Church there," he said. "These two rites carry the missionary spirit today. To me that's very dynamic."
Kozar also said he found collaboration among the Eastern and Latin rites – especially among their leaders, the bishops – to be strong, resulting in meaningful service to children, people with handicaps and poor families.