Monday, June 23, 2014

Fond Memories of Thomas M. Thomas NJ

Good Samaritan to all &  Leader
dr.james kottoor
I was shell-shocked literally, to receive an email telling my good friend, Thomas M. Thomas of New Jersey met with a car accident and was no more. I am grieved beyond measure and am still to recover from the shock as he was such  a  good friend, always in the forefront  as a Good Samaritan to  help  those in need. He was returning home after doing the service of dropping a friend at the air port. May God rest his soul and comfort his beloved wife Gracy, son Tegy and daughter Tegina.

He was an enviably exemplary Catholic in the SyroMalabar Church (CMC) community and a social activist always ready to help any one with his might, mite, time and know-how, as I knew him from 2011. A few things he did may tell volumes about him  than any of my lengthy eulogy. It all happened through sheer chance humanly speaking, but providentially as I look back. Being a journalist, I happened to write an article on Syromalabar church: “Faith Crowds or Rite Colonies?” highlighting the idea “Church is fellowship not groupism, to rule is to serve, not lording it over,   evangelisation is not colonisation, harvesting of souls isn't cultivating churches  (Pallikrishi) for reaping   ($ Koithu),   cross is for crucifying self not others, any Rite is all right to pray.”

 Many websites in US published and so it came to the notice of Thomas Thomas in N. Jersey and he phoned up to me, then in Chicago, where I was on a short visit to my daughter. He simply pleaded with me to join his group and take a leadership role in reorganizing the scattered divided SMC laity and get them to start a healthy dialogue with the bishops and clergy in US. “Who am I to do that, being nobody except a passing journalist from Ernakulam,” I said in response. But he wouldn’t leave me. He at once wanted to organize a telephone conference, which I didn’t know how to, to discuss matters... But he insisted and organized one, got me on line with many of his friends and thrashed out how to renew the CMC in US and the report was published in various websites.

 It was then he told me how he was active in parish activities and sending so many well-meaning letters even registered ones and memorandums to Bishops in Kerala and Ernakulam but was not receiving any reply. Thomachan, as we used to call him fondly, was one of the founding fathers of the Kerala Catholic Congress and was in the forefront to bring the CMC bishops and clergy first to NY to conduct their home grown liturgy which finally paved the way to the establishing of the CMC hierarchy in US cantered in Chicago. Once the hierarchy was established, it was alleged that the laity spearheaded by Thomachan and company, who did all the ground work were  ignored and clergy began to have the last say in everything which people resented causing factions, some siding clergy and others lay leaders. The telephone conference was about ways to start vertical and horizontal dialogue to bring unity and harmony. Since he did not receive any reply from bishops in Ernakulam, to letters and other reports sent, he entreated me to act at least as his messenger to carry his letters, as I was to return to Ernakulam soon.

This I did most willingly, distributed them to all bishops, went all the way to Kakkanad to meet Bishop Puthur for a one hour discussion explaining their grievances – bishops in US answer letters latest in a week while bishops in Kerala sit over them like hen hatching eggs and never produce chicks. Finally Bishop Puthur was good enough to write acknowledging his letters with copy to me. That is how I was drawn into official CMC politics for the first time and I still continue to do my little bit for the sake of Thomachan and friends like him.

Regular with Phones & Emails

Ever since Thomachan used to be in regular contact through emails and phone calls to me in Ernakulam always discussing church matters and what he could do to improve the image of CMC in Kerala and US.. The following year when I had to come again to Chicago, I wanted to visit two persons in NY: Arul Louis who learned basics of Journalism in the 125 year old weekly, New Leader office in Chennai, 40 years ago, now editor in NY and Alphonsa a smart girl who was office manager then, now married and settled in NY, both from Tamil Nadu. I had been editor and publisher of NL after my studies in Journalism at Marquette Milwaukee in the l960s. Thomachan and his friend Thomas Koovaloor caught hold of this visit to NY, to turn it into a one day Seminar on “Role of Indian Americans in US” at Indo-American Yoga Institute, Yonkers, on June 9/2012.

Both had come to receive my wife and me at the air port and it was then I personally saw and met these internet friends for the first time. Thomachan right away took us to his home in N.Jersy as his priced guest to lavish his warmth and hospitality. On 9th he brought us back to Yonkers for the seminar and it was there I happened to meet for the first time my famous writer  friend Joseph Matthew Padanamakal,  George Joseph, editor of E-malayalee, Moideen Puthenchira of Malayalam daily News, who did all the publicity for the Yonkers Seminar and some  40 Friends-of-kottoor Seminar Thomachan and Koovalloor had organized. This is what these two Good Samaritan friends did to me, a person whom they had never met before but knew only through e-mails and writings. Can you imagine, such things could happen? But they did.

There are ever so many things I could narrate about our dear departed soul Thomachan He visited me twice in Ernakulam and wanted me very much to visit his home. I regret I could not fulfil that sincere wish of his but had promised him when he was in Kerala two months ago, to do that at his next visit. Hence my regret all the more. Every time he visited Kerala he made it a point to go to  Palai to meet Catholic Reformation group there and to give his whole hearted support to Almayasabdam website and Sathyajwala magazine dedicated to church reform.

During the last one year Thomachan was very much concerned about setting up an independent Christian Association in US, modelled on the 90 or so old Catholic Union of India, not one  hanging on to the apron strings of the clergy.  For that purpose he wanted to see the Memorandum of understanding of the Catholic Union, which I managed to get and sent to him. In fact he was planning to organize a seminar precisely to discuss this issue at Boston under the leadership of Jacob Kallupurackal, Attorney from Boston which could not take place due to various hurdles.

He had suggested that Kalluprackal, writer and social worker A.C. George or some one like them could play the leadership role in such a vibrant Christian Association. Thomachan was always giving unsolicited leadership also in organizing several monthly Syromalabar international Telephone conferences producing constructive suggestions to up-date the CMC. I on my part used to forward the reports of these conferences to concerned bishops in Kerala.

Now that Thomachan is gone, it is for his friends to come forward and make real some of his cherished dreams, especially to build up a united Christian Association in US, independent of all church politics, to act as a leven to bring about change for the better both in church and society. That alone can be the rich tribute, in my humble opinion that we his friends can pay to the fond memories of the departed Thomachan’s soul.
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