Bishop Srampickal: People-friendly eparchial prelate completes one year in office

By Alison Rebello
It’s been a year since Rt Rev. Bishop Mar Joseph Srampickal was ordained as the first prelate of the Syro Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain.
Ever since, he has widely travelled to reach out to the Syro Malabar faithful in England, Wales and Scotland. He has celebrated Holy Mass, Requiem Mass, led feast day celebrations, undertook pilgrimages, met members of the community in their own homes and above all posed for photographs and selfies with families so they feel at home, with him.
In an exclusive interview with online news portal UKMalayalee.com, the shepherd of the Syro Malabar flock Bishop Srampickal spoke to Alison Rebello about the year that went past and the plans for the years ahead.
AR: Please tell us about the achievements of the Syro Malabar Eparchy of Great Britain in the last one year?
Bishop: We have created basic Christian communities where ever we have our presence. The 171 Qurbana/Mass Centre’s in the eparchy was bifurcated into 8 regions and we entrusted 8 priests as its Cordinators.
We constituted the Curia, the college of eparchial consultors and also established 16 Commissions including among others Cherupushpa Mission League, Savio Friends with priests as its chairman, a Director for Eparchial Women’s Forum and a PRO to oversee the publicity works.
AR: Can you name the 8 regions and its coordinators?
Bishop: Glasgow- Fr Joseph Vembadumthara VC, Preston- Fr Saji Thottathil, Manchester- Fr Thomas Thaikkottathil MST, Coventry-Fr Jaison Karippai Kurian, Cambridge- Fr Terin Mullakkara, Bristol-Cardiff- Fr Paul Vettikkattu CST, London- Fr Sebastian Chamakkala, Southampton- Fr Tomy Chirackalmanavalan.
AR: Are there any specific plans for the future that you are focussing on?
Bishop: In November we are going to have a joint presbyterial and pastoral council meeting to think about the future and to formulate a 5 year plan for the eparchy. Next year we are planning to organise an eparchial pilgrimage to Holy Land. We are also in the basic consultation stage to create Missions instead of Qurbana/ Mass Centre’s.
AR:  How many priests are serving the eparchy currently and do you intend to bring more in?
Bishop: There are 84 priests currently serving around 40000 Syro Malabar Catholics spread across the eparchy in England, Wales and Scotland. We have 5 more priests coming from India by the end of February 2018.
AR: Have you taken up any eparchial level initiative that has set the tone for the worshipping community?
Bishop: Yes indeed. We made our 1st eparchial pilgrimage to Walsingham in July and also organised a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Fatima on the occasion of the centenary of apparitions. We are currently preparing for the 1st Eparchial Bible Convention beginning October 22- 29, led by Fr Xavier Khan Vattayil in all the 8 regional centres, to mark the first year of the establishment of the eparchy.
AR: Are there any sign of vocation coming from the new generation here in Britain?
Bishop: We admitted 3 young men who are brought up in Great Britain, to the minor seminary, which is a promising start. God willing, we will have more men and women taking vows for religious vocation and life.   
AR: From your visits across the country what is the general opinion of the worshipping community?
Bishop: The worshipping community has welcomed the erection of the eparchy wholeheartedly and they are showing positive signs of co-operation in all spheres of church life. They have given me every reason to believe that we will move forward together in the right direction.
AR: What are the challenges that lie ahead in leading the Syro Malabar flock in Britain?
Bishop: Language is a great barrier where we have slight teething problems but we are certain it will be ironed out, in due course.
We are trying to work out the best option and have principally adapted to say the Mass in Malayalam for parents and in English for children. From a family point of view, the work life balance among families is another challenge as parents work in different shifts and sometimes that is an impediment for family prayer life.
We need to make sacrifices and work around it, to find a solution that fine tunes itself and brings the best of Christ centric family life.   
AR: What is your opinion about numerous retreats going on in UK?
Bishop: Retreats offer good opportunities to constantly keep us recharged with spiritual nourishment. The faithful who attend retreat are trying to be better Christians and perhaps, better missionaries in the long run. It is a form of evangelisation.  
AR: Is there a need to evangelise Europe?
Bishop: Yes, there is a need to evangelise Europe, particularly among those who do not know Christ yet. We can do that through our Christian witness primarily and through our words and deeds. It will bring about a better tomorrow, in our society.
AR: Do you feel the Latin Church has welcomed you and the intra-relations between Latin and Syro Malabar Church are evolving smoothly?  
Bishop: Most certainly. The Latin Church has welcomed us wholeheartedly. We belong to the same Bishop’s Conference and I can say for sure, Latin Bishops and priests are always welcoming and they extend every possible help to our priests and community members.
AR: How can we close the gap between practising and non practising Catholics?
Bishop: I would rather rephrase the question. Why only Catholics, those who are non-practising Christians, are not enjoying the fruits of Christian life. They are depriving themselves of the benefits of ecclesial life. They need a conversion of heart for which we need to fervently pray for them.
AR: Finally, what is your message for the priests who have been serving in the UK, even before you assumed office as Bishop of the new Eparchy? 
Bishop: I am very grateful to them for their pastoral services. They have worked tirelessly to maintain the tradition, shown resilience, commitment and integrated themselves within the communities.
My heart swells with pride when the Syro Malabar flock tells me about how the priests have been a constant source of spiritual guidance for the communities. With the creation of the new eparchy we will work together with a renewed sense of responsibility and commitment, for the burgeoning Syro Malabar flock.