Mar Raphael Thattil, Syro-Malabar Church’s surprise pick, begins with a call for unity

Mar Raphael Thattil. Photo: Manorama

The Syro-Malabar Church has sprung a surprise by picking Bishop Raphael Thattil as its major archbishop succeeding Cardinal George Alencherry who resigned from the post last month. Speculators had thoroughly failed to guess the 68-year-old bishop’s name even as a probable candidate for the key post. It was widely believed that Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, the bishop of the Eparchy of Pala, would succeed Alencherry. Ujjain Bishop Mar Sebastian Vadakkel’s name also did the rounds. However, the Church indeed had a different plan and it ensured total secrecy in its selection. 

In Mar Thattil, the Syro-Malabar Church has found a smiling face, a necessity at a time when the institution is facing a factional crisis. The controversies over the land deals involving the cardinal and the dispute over the unification of the styles of holy mass, which many believe led to the stepping down of Mar Alencherry, are yet to die down. Hence, the task Thattil has cut out is to ensure unity – a must for any establishment, especially a religious entity. 

Mar Thattil, who was serving as the bishop of the Eparchy of Shamshabad, sounded well aware of the mandate he had in his hand in his initial responses after the appointment. “Every crisis is a horizon; it’s not the end. I believe there will be a sunrise from every crisis,” the clergyman known for his oratory skills told reporters after the announcement. He emphasised on the need to “listen to everyone”. To a question about the ongoing dispute over the holy mass, he said he would not comment on it now without consulting all those involved in it. “I always believe that it is not right to make a judgment without listening to all,” he said.

‘Nothing should remain closed’

Asked about the St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica in Ernakulam, one of the oldest churches and the headquarters of the archdiocese, remaining closed ever since a clash broke out on November 28, 2022, during an attempt to conduct mass by the synod-prescribed method, this is what the new major archbishop said: “Nothing should remain closed.” He said he will look into what can be done on the issue.

Mar Thattil was felicitated by the clergy during the announcement of the new archbishop. Photo: Special Arrangement

Earlier, in his brief address to his colleagues after the announcement, he kept repeating the need for unity and cooperation.  To drive his message home, he quoted amply from the Bible.

At one point he invoked John (15:5) -- "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 

“Let’s work together. As the one who has been selected to lead, my responsibility is to cooperate with you,” he said. 

The shared feeling within the Church is that Mar Thattil has been chosen for the responsibility considering his acceptance across sections. “He is known as a problem solver and is the right choice at the moment,” a bishop told Onmanorama. 

The 10th son who speaks 4 languages

Bishop Thattil was born as the last of the 10 children of Thattil Ouseph and Thresia in Thrissur. After schooling, he joined the St. Mary’s Minor Seminary, Thrissur in 1971. He completed his Philosophy and Theology from St. Thomas Ap. Seminary, Vadavathoor and was ordained a priest in December 1980.

He started his priesthood as assistant vicar, Aranattukara. He then served as Fr. Prefect and assistant procurator at St. Mary's Minor Seminary, Thrissur. He did his higher studies in Rome and earned a doctorate in Oriental Canon Law.

Mar Raphel Thattil was born in Thrissur. Photo: Manorama

On his return from Rome, he served in the Eparchy as vice chancellor, chancellor, adjutant judicial vicar, judge, syncellus and proto syncellus. He also served as the director of DBCLC and catechism. He was the first rector of Marymatha Major Seminary, Thrissur.

He was consecrated bishop in April 2010 and appointed auxiliary bishop of Thrissur and titular bishop of Bruni. In 2014, he was appointed apostolic visitor. He was appointed the first bishop of the Diocese of Shamshabad on October 10, 2017. He speaks Malayalam, English, German and Italian. 

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