Pope no longer doubts Thomas reached India

Pope Benedict has amended the published text of a speech on the travels of St Thomas to explicitly recognise that the Apostle reached southern India, following heated protests from Indian Catholics.

Spirited protests from the Kerala Syro-Malabar Church followed Pope Benedict's statement in a general audience at St Peter's Square on 27 September, when he said: "Let us remember that an ancient tradition claims that Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia then went on to Western India from where Christianity also reached Southern India."

Pope Benedict, who had earlier corrected the published text of his remarks on Islam and Prophet Mohammed, has now corrected the text of his speech on the Vatican website, DNA India reports.

The new version on the website substitutes the word "Christianity" with "he" (St Thomas) to read: "Let us remember that an ancient tradition claims that Thomas first evangelised Syria and Persia then went on to Western India from where he also reached Southern India."

This marks a return to the traditional theory of the Apostle's visit to south India.

The Syro-Malabar Church, which accounts for 4 million of the 24 million Christians in India, objected to the Pope's casual remarks made in a series of catechesis on the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.

The Kerala Church fortnightly newspaper Sathyadeepam ("Light of Truth") ran an article on its 19 November issue criticising the Pope's remarks.

Jesuit priest George Nedungattu wrote: "Pope Benedict may seem to distance himself from his predecessors, especially Pope John Paul II, who on several occasions has referred to St Thomas as the Apostle of India. According to Pope Benedict XVI, however, the area St Thomas evangelised was not south India, but what he called 'western India,' corresponding roughly to Pakistan today."

"Pope Benedict XVI has the reputation of being a theologian, but this is not the same as competence in Church history. His negative stand does not erode the merit of the Indian tradition about St Thomas as the Apostle of India."

The priest, who is working with Oriental Pontifical Institute in Rome, sites sources from early Popes to former Indian Presidents Rajendra Prasad and Shankar Dayal Sharma to prove his point, according to DNA India.

In 1986, Pope John Paul II visited the Santhome Cathedral in Chennai, where St Thomas is believed to be buried in a crypt.

Syro-Malabar Church, one of the three Catholic Churches in Kerala, claims to have been formed by those directly baptised by the apostle, who landed in Kerala in 52 AD and was martyred in Tamil Nadu in 72 AD. But Latin Catholic Church, established in the 15th century, has been less insistent on the claim.

"The Pope's statement is contrary to the views expressed by earlier Popes and official view of the Church. Earlier Popes acknowledged St Thomas as Apostle of India in their statements and records," Father Paul Thelakat, chief editor of the fortnightly, said.

Though there was no official rebuke to the papal theory, believers did not try to hide their resentment. Syro-Malabar Archbishop Joseph Powathil, however, said that "The Pope has been misquoted."

Did Thomas the Apostle visit South India? (DNA India, 29/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)

Record number of Indian Catholics in bible quiz (CathNews 18/10/06)
Indian Catholics consider including Sanskrit in prayers (CathNews 23/10/02)


30 Nov 2006