I felt my spiritual point getting weaker, said Jose Malaickal, a Yonkers resident who came from Kottayam with his wife and two daughters in 1982. We have a lifelong heritage. When we came here, we didnt have access to that.
The possibility that his two daughters would lose that connection was my main concern, Malaickal said.
However, Malaickals younger daughter, Laleni, now a 24-year-old computer consultant in Manhattan, saw what she was missing in Roman Catholic churches when she attended college in India.
I consider myself an American, but one of the things I did miss [when she returned to the States] were the liturgies. Its very nice to have that sense of India back, she said of St. Thomas Church.
Independence is a goal. In Hempstead, Father Saji George is celebrating the liturgy at St. John Chrysostom Syro-Malankara Catholic Mission. In the pews, parishioners assume a traditional seating arrangement: men on one side and women on the other. Children occupy the front rows.
Like Syro-Malabar Catholics, Syro-Malankara Catholics attended Roman Catholic churches until they could find their own community. There are only 400,000 Syro-Malankara Catholics in the world; 500 families live in the United States.
When Jose Thomas, now a 40-year-old Metropolitan Transit Authority dispatcher from New Hyde Park, arrived in 1986, he was fortunate to have to ride only three trains from Brooklyn to join a Syro-Malankara community in Manhattan. Going to Roman Catholic Masses, he said, left him a bit empty. I didnt get the full satisfaction as from our Malankara liturgy.
Religion is more accessible for Mr. Thomas, his wife, Susan, and their two daughters, ages 9 and 6. At St. Johns, the girls have grown up worshiping with most of the Syro-Malankara rites retained.
But having their own church (St. Johns celebrates liturgies in a Roman Catholic church) is something Father George and his parishioners say they look forward to having one day.
Until then, men and women like the Thomases, are relieved to have a church honoring the Syro-Malankara traditions to keep their families connected to India. So even though Mr. Thomas cannot pick mangoes or bananas off the trees outside his house, as he said he misses doing, coming to St. Johns makes him feel closer to home.
On Staten Island is St. Johns Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church, one of the churchs 28 parishes across the nation. Though the Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church has about 3 million followers worldwide, it is not well known.
People dont know the Orthodox Church, said Father Mathai Varkey Puthukkunnathu, one of St. Johns priests.
I believe as time goes on, the public will have more awareness of this faith, said Father Puthukkunnathu.
Breaking down boundaries. In Yonkers, loud singing and hand clapping vibrate the red-rimmed doors of a store front church. Wednesday night Bible study at the New Testament Church, an evangelical mission, is beginning.
Brother Michael Thomas, a tall American, is preaching at the podium. How many of you can say Amen!? he shouts.
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