Proper training for future priests has always been the major concern of the Church. The success of the Church to a large extent is related to the ministry of priests, which, in the seminaries. The Decree on priestly formation so rightly said "the wish for renewal of the whole Church depends in a large measure on the ministry of the priests who are vitalized by the spirit of Christ." According to warren A. Quanbeck "whether the vision of Vatican becomes a reality or a lost opportunity depends to a large extent on the way it is realized in the seminaries and among the leaders of the Church".
In contrast to the council of Trent, Vatican II was noted for its pastoral openness and local adaptation. The Council viewed that the priestly formation is to be made relevant by adapting itself to the local situation and pastoral circumstances. It is on the basis of this vision and the spirit of the Vatican, that the Archdiocese of Thrissur as a local Church decided to establish its own Major Seminary. This article attempts to articulate the reasons for and vision of beginning a Major seminary in Thrissur.
Christianity in Thrissur traces back its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle who landed at Kodungalore and preached the good mews at Palayur in the Archdiocese of Thrissur as early as 52 A.D. Although Christianity in Teichur is two thousand years old, the Diocese of Thrissur was canonically established on 20th May 1887 by Leo XIII. It is the first and the most ancient of all the Syro-Malabar dioceses and plays a vital role in the life and activities of the Syro-Malabar Church. The Archdiocese of Thrissur is spread over an area of 2,000 sq. k.m. and out of a total population of 1909736 has at present 423786 Catholics, belonging to 73009 Catholic Families, 177 parishes, 84 station churches 233 diocesan priests, 85 religious priests, 93 religious brothers and 3924 religious sisters. In 1995, the Diocese of Thirssur was raised to an Archdiocese and Metropolitan Province having Palghat and Irinjalakuda as suffragan dioceses, which were formed bifurcation Thrissur in 1974 and 1978 respectively. Palaghat has a catholic population of 50,000 and Irinjalakuda 300,000. The diocese of Ramanathapuram is also suffragan to Archdiocese of Thrissur since 2010.
Although there is a decline of vocation to priestly ministry in different parts of the world, Thrissur has still plenty of vocations to dedicated life. There are 80 candidates in the Archdiocesan Minor Seminary while 75 in Major seminaries. There are 13 men and women religious congregations stationed in this Archdiocese, which too receive sufficient number of candidates from this Archdiocese. Other religious congregations also get more vocations from Thrissur. According to the statistics of Archdiocesan vocation bureau, every year 300 candidates are admitted to the various religious congregations of men and women from this Archdiocese.
Earlier, Candidates to priesthood from this Archdiocese are sent to St. Joseph's Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye and St. Thomas Apostolic Seminary, Kottayam which are common to all the 14 Syro-Malabar Diocese in Kerala. These seminaries are able to provide admission only for a restricted number of students, which may be 10 at the maximum for each diocese. The rest of our candidates are to be sent to other seminaries outside Kerala. A few students from this Archdiocese are sent to Papal Seminary Pune, St. Joseph's Seminary, Mangalore and St. Benedict Seminary, Makkiad. Under these circumstances we are forced to restrict the admission to the minor seminary. For example, in the year 1997, 72 candidates attended the final selection camp of which we could admit only 35 candidates to the Archdiocesan minor seminary. The rest of the candidates were rejected since they would not get accommodation in the major seminaries. Marymatha Major Seminary is expected to be an answer to these problems.
It is true that our major seminaries provide considerable academic formation, but human, spiritual and personal dimensions of the priestly formation have not yet reached a desirable standard. Both the seminaries Alwaye and Kottayam accommodate students beyond their capacity. They also admit students from the religious congregation to attend the classes as day scholars. In the philosophy section the number of each batch may go from 70 to 90 and in the theology section 60 to 70. This over load makes the class rooms so unwieldy that it affects the formation especially in the fields of spiritual orientation, personality development, personal attention and pastoral involvement. This is very well taken care of by the Marymatha Major Seminary.
A large number of Syro-Malabar immigrants are settled in the big cities of India as well as abroad. The Synod of Syro-Malabar Church has asked for the opportunities to provide pastoral care of its immigrants inside and out side the country. In this context Syro-Malabar Church has to promote vocations to the maximum. A large number of Syro-Malabar immigrants are from Thrissur and hence Thrissur has to pay a greater role in the caring for the Syro-Malabar immigrants. This could be realized only by recruiting more candidates who show signs of genuine vocation to priesthood in the diocesan seminary like Marymatha.
Syro-Malabar Church is the most vibrant of all oriented Catholic Churches. As it has plenty of vocations, it could very well undertake missions inside and outside the country. The Archdiocese of Thrissur has decided to prepare itself for launching into missionary endeavors of the Syro-Malabar Church both in India and abroad. Marymatha has therefore the vision of producing future missionaries also.
The present seminary formation is a contribution of the council of Trent. But one of its drawbacks was its rigidity. It left no possibility for any kind of adaptation. In contrast to the council of Trent, II Vatican Council left sufficient scope in priestly formation for proper adaptation to the needs of time and place. "Since the variety of people and places are so great, only general rules can be legislated. Hence in each nation or particular rite a programme for priestly formation should be undertaken.Universal laws are thus to be adapted to the special circumstances of the time and place, so that priestly formation will always answer the pastoral needs of the area in which the ministry is to be exercised"(OT 1). According to the sprit of II Vatican Council, the local Church is responsible for adapting the priestly formation for its pastoral exigencies. "The entire formation of priests, that is, the arrangements of the seminary, its spiritual instruction, its curriculum, the common life and discipline of the students, and its pastoral training should be adapted to the various circumstances of the region".
Both codes [CIC 237#1, CCEO 334#1] envisage the major seminary of diocesan level as ideal whenever it is possible. An inter diocesan seminary is needed only when a diocesan seminary become impossible on account of lack of students or teachers or resources. In the case of the Archdiocese of Thrissur, we are fortunate to have sufficient number of students and trained staff. Among the diocesan priests, there are 4 who hold degrees in Sacred Scriptures, 12 in theology, 5 in spirituality, 5 in canon law, 3 in liturgy, 3 in philosophy, and 5 in literature. A few more priests who are now doing doctoral studies in various branches abroad are also expected to come out in one or two years.
The proposed seminary is envisaged as a diocesan primarily taking care of the formation of the candidates of the Archdiocese. However, admission is also open to the candidates of other diocese and religious communities.
The Archdiocese consulted various for a fitting name for the major seminary. Every section of people of God suggested that the seminary is to be dedicated to Blessed Virgin Mother, the heavenly patroness of Archdiocese. "So Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew up, both in body and in wisdom, gaining favor with God and men" [Lk 2: 51-52]. Blessed Virgin Mary who was chosen to educate the Eternal High Priest shall also be a model and mediator for the candidates of Marymatha.
The motto is quote from the book of Jeremiah. "I will give you shepherd after my own heart" [Jer 3:15]. Jesus Christ was supreme realization of this promise. "For god loved the world so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life" [Jn 3:16]. Jesus declared: "I am the good shepherd" [Jn 10:11]. The latest apostolic exhortation by Pope John Paul II on March 25, 1992 is titled as "Pastores Dabo Vobis". It speaks on improving the quality of priestly life after in view of the third millennium. The program of formation of Marymatha has to draw inspiration from "Pastores Dabo Vobis". It needs o take into serious consideration of the rapid transformation that are taking place in the world today and wants to update and adapt the program of formation to the present ecclesial and cultural context.
By taking "Pastores Dabo Vobis" as the motto, Marymatha major seminary has a basic vision of gaining formation for its priests after the sacred heart of Jesus, the good shepherd. A priest is one who is called to participate in the unique priesthood remains the same at all times. Priest, is "after christus". Christ has revealed his priestly identity as a ministry of good shepherd. "I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep" [Jn 10: 11]. Jesus explained the glory of his ministry in self-immolation. "The hour has now come for the son of man to receive great glory. I am telling you the truth a grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies. If it does die, then it produces many grains. Whoever loves his own life will lose it; whoever hates his own life in the world will keep it for life" [Jn 12: 24-25]. Christ explained his priestly mission through his passion, death and resurrection. The consecration of a priest configures him to Christ. Just as Christ as the good shepherd offered his life for the flock the priest must imitate Christ in self-giving.
Although the essential aspect of priesthood remains the same at all the times, the priests are called from different ecclesial and cultural situations and are sent out to in these contexts. The task of the program of priestly formation is to make the formation relevant to the pastoral exigencies. Hence the fundamental vision of Marymatha should be pastoral. Every aspect of formation should provide conviction and commitment for the candidates to be good pastors. Formation is to create in them love for Christ and His people.
Marymatha Major seminary is a precious gift of God to the Archdiocese of Thrissur as well as to the universal Church. It is hope and wish of the entire people of God that Marymatha forms a new generation of priests after the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who would guide the destinies of the Church during the third millennium,