The Congregation of the Passionists was founded by Paul Francis Daneo, popularly known as Paul of the Cross, in 1720. Born in Overdo, Northern Italy in 1694, Paul had great devotion to the passion of Jesus Christ from his very early days. This devotion became the hallmark and distinguishing feature of the Community he established. Paul, a mystic and contemplative as well as a fiery missionary, died in 1775 and is buried at the monastery of Saints John and Paul in Rome, the mother House of the world-wide Community of the Passionist priests and brothers.
At the invitation of Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara, Bishop of Cochin, Fr. Paul Boyle, C.P. (Superior General at the time) asked five English speaking Passionists from various provinces in the world to form their first Passionist Community in India. He called them together in Rome in September 1980 and on March 22, 1981, Fr. Philip Smith reached Cochin as the first of the group assigned. Fr. Walter Kaolin, designated as the Superior of the new Community, arrived on March 23, 1981 and Bishop Joseph Kureethara offered them a piece of property on Pallichal Road at Palluruthy. The Bishop also offered them his generous hospitality at the Bishop's House until they could arrange suitable accommodation to move into.
So many Congregations have found fertile soil here in the little Cochin Diocese as a result of that subtle play of divine design. Likewise the itch or irritability of an officious customs officer and an inexplicable 'disappearance' of baggage appear to have 'conspired' the initiation of the Passionist Community in the Diocese. The personal notes of His Excellency Bishop Joseph Kureethara throw light on the absolute faith His Excellency had on that interference from above. It would be unfair to deny anyone the pleasure those lines evoke and so:
"It was September 9, 1977. I was returning from Rome by Air India. As there was nothing to declare, I was trying to pass through the 'green channel'. But suddenly an officer came and ordered me to open my baggage for inspection. He scattered on the floor everything in my luggage. He could find nothing worth dutiable. He left me without a decent word of excuse. Nor did he help me re-pack my baggage. It was a terribly hot day in Bombay. I should have gone out through the 'green gate' and reached my destination earlier. But then I did not know that God had arranged my delay at the Airport. He had his own plans!
"Suddenly there appeared a young man. I was busy packing my bags. He asked me whether I was a priest! 'A Catholic Priest?' When I informed that I was the Bishop of Cochin, he seemed to be relaxed a bit. He was very much confused and worried until then. He was Rev. Fr. Raymond C.P., Passionist Priest from USA, then working as a missionary in the Philippines. He was returning from USA after visiting his mother who was sick. He had planned to stay in an hotel and see the city. He was to resume his journey to Philippines after four days' stay in Bombay. Therefore from New York he checked in for Bombay. But when he reached Bombay, his pieces of luggage were missing! He had with him practically nothing except his passport and ticket. He had no money, no friends in Bombay. He had to stay in Bombay for four days! When he complained to the Air France, the officers asked him to write the description of his baggage. This they signed and gave back to claim his luggage later on.
"When he introduced himself to me like this I replied: 'Hearty Congratulations, Fr. Raymond!' He asked me why I congratulated him. I told him: 'God has a different plan. He knows how to bring something beautiful from bad incidents!' I took him by a taxi and brought him to His Eminence Valerian Cardinal Gracias who welcomed him at the Cardinal's house. The Priests at the Cardinal's house were all very good to us.
"I took him to the office of Air France and they gave him Rs.300/- to meet his immediate needs. I told Fr. Raymond that I would pray that he did not get his baggage till he left Bombay. We started with a cup of tea and ice cream and bought all essential articles. The next day, he accompanied me to the Airport. I was to fly to Cochin. While waiting, I asked Fr. Raymond whether there was any Passionist Monastery in India. He told me that the Superiors were planning to start one in India. I promised my assistance and then boarded for Cochin. On the day before his flight to Manila Fr. Raymond got a phone call from the Air France. His baggage had been found! The next day the Reverend Father returned to his destination."
From Rizal Fr. Raymond wrote to His Excellency how happy he was to have lost his baggage in Bombay and to have met the Bishop and that he could get so many priests and others including the famous Cardinal Gracias as his friends in Bombay. He also wrote a letter to Most Rev. Fr. Paul Boyle C.P., the Superior General in Rome, introducing the Bishop of Cochin to him.
The Father General wrote to the Bishop that his Assistant General Rev. Fr. Norbert Dorsey C.P. would be visiting Cochin. Fr. Norbert arrived in Cochin on December 5, 1979. Bishop Kureethara took him around the city of Cochin and the next day he left for Rome. As suggested by Fr. Norbert, His Excellency wrote to the Fr. General on January 2, 1980, inviting him to open a Passionist House in the Diocese which was accepted by his letter in reply dated January 23, 1980. Fr. Raymond was immensely happy to know how God made use of his lost luggage in order to initiate the establishment of the Passionist Community - their first in India - in the Diocese of Cochin! On January 28, 1980, Fr. Raymond wrote to the Bishop: "…if my bags had never been missed, I probably would never have met you and then what? Praise the Lord!"
Fr. General decided to start the Passionist House in Cochin, directly under the Generalate. Hence he invited all the Provinces, exhorting volunteers to go to India. To everyone's surprise there came the names of 25 Passionist Priests from different parts of the world. He selected six of them, Rev. Walter Kaelin (Chicago), Rev. John Francis Hanlon (New Jersey), Rev. Carlos Elizalde (Spain), Rev. Philip Smith (Australia), Rev. Lombardo Nicer (Italy) in March 1980 and called them to Rome to acquire thorough knowledge of the Indian culture, traditions, religions etc.
At last the Diocese was going to have the Passionist Monastery! At Pallichal Road in the parish of St. Sebastian's, Palluruthy, the Diocese had already bought a property together with the buildings therein, consisting of 5120 sq. metres which the Diocesan Consultors` meeting decided to donate to the Passionists. Rev. Fr. Philip Smith C.P. from Australia arrived in Cochin on March 22, 1981 and the next day Rev. Fr. Walter Kaelin C.P. from Chicago, USA, also landed. They were accommodated at the Bishop's House, Cochin and from there they worked hard everyday to adjust the house on the property donated to them so as to transform it into a monastery.
On March 25, 1981, His Excellency, Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara had the happy occasion to officiate at the blessing and inauguration of the first Passionist Aashram in India at Pallichal, Cochin, the ancient but diminutive Diocese in the country. The wonderful providence of God accomplished it through Fr. Reymond losing his luggage and the Bishop getting subjected to a thorough customs check which drew disquieting delay at Bombay Airport! Once the Passionist palm was thus planted at Pallichal Road in Palluruthy, the prelate penned to his providential instrument twin, " Long live your lost luggage!"
Immediately Fr. Walter and Fr. Philip started getting invitations to preach retreats for Priests in many dioceses in India. Many Bishops, who knew the Passionist Community in Europe and America, started asking Bishop Joseph Kureethara how the Passionist Fathers came to Cochin Diocese! Perhaps the Bishops were under the impression that the Cochin Bishop's influence brought them over to the Diocese. How could anyone ever imagine the mysterious byplay of some lost luggage in the matter! His Excellency's personal record runs: "God knows how to turn even our failings into something beautiful and wonderful!"
On May 27, 1981 an extension to the building as a chapel was effected and within a few months another building was made operational, remodelling an old lumber yard and it was blessed on October 19, 1981. With the Bishop's permission the Canonical Erection of the Passionist Ashram was made by the Most Rev. Fr. Paul Boyle C.P., the General, on February 10, 1982 and thus it became a "Domus Religiosa". A Seminary had been instituted on June 12, 1981 and in the first year itself 16 boys after their High School were admitted to the Seminary. A new chapel was blessed on February 11, 1983 and the Novitiate started on May 18, 1985.
The first Passionist Priest who came to Cochin on December 5, 1979, the then Assistant General, Rev. Fr. Norbert Dorsey C.P., was later consecrated as the Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, Florida on March 19, 1986, whom Bishop Kureethara visited in May 1989. Rt. Rev. Norbert Dorsey is presently the Bishop of Orlando Diocese, Florida.
The narration having reached this far, allow us, please, to digress a little bit from the main story. We cannot ignore, nor can we close our eyes to, the anxieties and apprehensions His Excellency was compelled to contain. The bounteous blessing in the shape of a Passionist Community to the Diocese has indeed been a gratifying, nay, fulfilling development to the prelate. But along with its spontaneous growth in course of time crept in an evidently innocuous but innately irksome innovation, potent enough to cause considerable concern. A certain deviation from the standing instructions issued by the Bishop based on the Code of Conduct on the part of the Congregation cast some clouds over the alluring aspirations His Excellency cherished about the Order. To be precise, the matter refers to the absorption of vocations and intake of aspirants irrespective of Rite differences.
The Holy See, on specific request from Oriental Bishops, has had issued injunctions discouraging recruitment of vocations from Oriental Rites into Latin Religious Congregations. Hence, the new Code of Oriental Rites makes it mandatory that noviciate of Oriental Candidates in Latin Congregations are invalid unless they secure special dispensation not only from their Oriental Ordinaries but also from the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Rites itself! All the newly erected monasteries and convents in the Cochin Diocese strictly adhere to the advice and instructions the Bishop has given them regarding the admission of candidates from rites other than Latin. Dealing with the rites´ issue and integrating it within the community has been a challenge in the region and a matter of grave concern for Bishop Joseph Kureethara. He often expressed his hope and aspiration for a solution to this unhealthy and unwise rivalry of the concerned, unmindful of the very basic precept, ' et unam, sanctam catholicam, et apostolicam ecclesiam'!
The prelate had already been subjected to ever so many bitter experiences as a result of the cancerous growth of rite rivalries within the Church in India. Healthy competition in any movement, he knew well, is interesting, encouraging and invigorating for upbuilding but senseless rivalry and bitter antagonism definitely divisive, disruptive and disastrous and hence certainly homicidal! Scary skeletons have always rattled in the cupboards of the caste conscious clerics and lay alike and have scattered in their wake, enormous debris of unholy events and ironical incidents. Quite so, when the Passionists appeared to ignore the New Code of Oriental Rites, it was but natural that the Bishop observed an overcast of gloom over the bright and colourful landscape of the Community he had envisioned in his mind. Eventually it appeared that His Excellency found warm comfort in the firm faith he had in the inscrutable ways of the Divine Providence in turning even adverse situations and alarming developments to something beautiful for God!
The Rules of the Congregation dictate that they seek the unity of their lives and their apostolate in the Passion of Jesus Christ that reveals the power of God that penetrates the world, demolishing the element of evil and building up the Kingdom of God. They express their participation in the passion by a special vow which is at once personal, communitarian and apostolic through which they bind themselves to keeping alive the memory of the passion of Christ. By word and by deed they strive to foster awareness of its significance and worth for each person and for the world. At their Third Vicariate Congress held in Bangalore in June 1997, they drafted their ministry here as: "Our mission as Passonists in India is to experience and proclaim the fire of Christ's Passion as a Community of Brothers. We do this by identifying ourselves with the crucified, struggling to undo injustice and caring for humanity and nature."
Their ministries vary throughout the world according to the needs of the country and the conditions of the locality. They are involved in preaching (Missions and Retreats), teaching, social, and pastoral work and serving as chaplains. Their mission in the Cochin Diocese consists of retreats, days of recollection and assisting at local parishes and convents as and when needed. They are also engaged in the ministry of vocations of which formation is the primary focus at the seminary.
The present Father general of the Passionist Congregation elected in December 1988 is the most Rev. Jose Augustin Orbegozo C.P. of Spain and the Consultor General for India is Rev. Fr. Jefferies Foale. The Congregation is stretching its cool foliage of shady branches and now they have a new House erected in Bangalore on May 20, 1993. Here at home, a new Seminary building was blessed on October 14, 1995. They also have two parishes - one in Palliport and the other in Randham, Tamil Nadu. There is a Novitiate House at Palliport also.
The Passionist Community ministers to the spiritual needs of the faithful in 56 countries of the world. Their ministries include preaching (Parish Missions and Retreats), pastoral ministries in parishes, hospitals, prisons; striving to be in solidarity with the poor and the crucified of today and these vary as per the clime and conditions of the countries concerned.
MAY THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST BE IN OUR HEARTS ALWAYS!
Written by His Excellency, (Late) Rt. Rev. Dr. Joseph Kureethara