His Eminence Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church, has displayed the kind of strong episcopal leadership and moral instruction for the faithful on the pro-life and pro-family issues that HLI honors with our Cardinal von Galen Award. Cardinal Vithayathil’s most recent pro-life action was the issuance of a pastoral letter read in all the Syro-Malabar rite parishes in August 2006 that condemns the worldwide problem of married couples refusing to have more than one or two children. He agrees with popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI about the root of the problem: “Persons who are driven by excessive desire end up in the hell of selfishness. In pursuit of their selfish joys, even those who can afford to bring up children, do not want them. Those who have the means should come forward to have more children and bring them up. Responsible fatherhood and motherhood demand this.”
His clear and unabashed condemnations of contraception and abortion and call for Catholics to generously accept to have larger families is just the message that the faithful need to hear from their priests and bishops around the world.
Cardinal Vithayathil was born into a family of eight children, and he grew up going to daily Mass with his brothers and sisters and parents. He was ordained a Redemptorist priest in 1954. After a short period as a titular archbishop, he was appointed to head the Syro-Malabar Eastern Rite as Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly in 1999. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001. HLI has had a close relationship with His Eminence through our three affiliates in India. Cardinal Vithayathil graciously agreed to support our pro-life efforts and came to speak at our HLI Asia Pacific Conference in 2004 which was held in Bangalore, India.
The Syro-Malabars are the second largest Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church, after the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite, and have three and half million faithful, mainly in India. They trace their roots back to the preaching of Thomas the Apostle in the first century and face the arduous task of evangelizing the second largest country of the world with over a billion inhabitants. Cardinal Vithayathil is giving the right message to his flock to strengthen their families and faith for the great task of spreading the Gospel of Christ. About 90% of Syro-Malabar Catholics attend mass every Sunday, but they have had some negative cultural influences over the years, especially the rejection of the papal encyclical Humanae vitae by liberals within the Church. In an interview, Cardinal Vithayathil expressed his frustration at the negative influences on India from the West: “But contraception became common because of the influence of loose Catholic doctrine coming from Western countries.”
HLI is proud to honor Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil with the Cardinal von Galen Award, and our prayer is that he will have many more years to preach the Gospel of Life and lead the Syro-Malabar Catholics in India in their important mission of evangelization.