Since May 2017, a community of about 30 families of the Syro-Malabar rite have been gathering to celebrate Mass with Fr Soney Sebastian and Fr Biju Thomas, at Christ the Redeemer Church in Grand Terrace. It is the latest Eastern Rite Catholic Community to be welcomed in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
For many years the community was celebrating their services at St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Forane Church in Santa Ana. They were commuting great distances, often more than 100 miles each way, from as far as Palm Springs and Victorville. Others commuted from Redlands, San Bernardino and Ontario. At the request of these families, and with the approval and recognition of the Bishop of San Bernardino Diocese, the Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago established St. Jude Syro-Malabar Mission in San Bernardino. Fr. Soney and Fr. Biju belong to this rite and were assigned as Director and Associate Director of the Mission that has Christ the Redeemer Church, Grand Terrace as its center. One of the community members, George Mattppally, says, “This is important to us because our community together to the Church and our kids grow with our tradition. We feel it is so important that they not lose their traditional language and culture.”
The Syro-Malabar Church dates back to 52 AD when St. Thomas the Apostle visited Southern India and founded several Christian communities on the Malabar coast in what is today known as the State of Kerala. The Syro-Malabar Church, otherwise called “the Church of St. Thomas Christians,” is the second largest Church among the Eastern Catholic Churches. The Kerala State is the home of this Church. In the 19th century, the Vatican gave it the name “Syro-Malabar Church.” It is an Eastern Catholic Major Archi-episcopal Church that is in full communion with the Pope and follows the liturgy of the East Syrian Rite.
One of the main characteristics of the Mass is the active participation of the children. They prepare the altar, sing in the choir and assist the priest as altar servers. In our community, the children aren’t familiar with the native script, so their parents transliterate the Malayalam prayers and songs into Roman (English) script so that they can read it. Listening to the beautiful voices of the children as they sing, read and respond in the Mass is a truly uplifting experience. There is wonderful participation but the only drawback is that most of them don’t know what they are saying. The first language of the children is now mostly English. So these days we celebrate the Mass in both Malaylam and English.
In addition to the Mass, an English CCD program is offered for the children. This helps them to understand the liturgy and many other practices in our tradition. These traditional practices, like the novena to our patron saint, rosary during the month of May and Lenten Stations of the Cross are followed without fail. Often these are organized in the family homes of the parishioners. This helps to foster our traditional practices, promote solidarity and build community. Our big festival is that of our patron, St. Jude, which is celebrated with colorful umbrellas, drums, decorated crosses and a traditional procession around the church. This celebration of St Jude is unique to the Syro-Malabar culture.
In June, 2020, Fr. Biju became the new Director of the Mission and Fr Soney now serves as the Associate Director. You are all invited to join our Sunday Celebration and taste our Syro-Malabar liturgy. Be prepared for lots of incense and spending a little more time before the altar.
– Biju Thomas SVD & Soney Sebastian SVD