C.M.C - A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
Introduction Sr Santhi Grace CMC
‘Mother India is not a piece of earth, but she is a godhead.’ She always fascinated and challenged the religious minds and bears witness to the multifarious styles of religious life. She has been known as a very spiritual, religious heavy area of the world. In India religion is a way of life and it permeates every aspect of life. By widening the horizons of religious life she manifests the depth of her spirituality. Since the beginning of the time the Himalayan Mountains have attracted many spiritual seekers. Down through the centuries the rishis and the great sages were always in a hunger for self realization and the mantra ‘Asathoma sadgamaya…Thamasoma jyothirgamaya….Mrutyorma amruthamgamaya …’ echoed all over the subcontinent. Even though there were many devoted women religious the general attitude of Indian religions were against women religious life.
Religious life in Kerala church
The Christian community of India hails its faith from St.Thomas the great apostle of our Lord. In the Ist century itself there was a community in Kerala firmly founded in Christian spirituality and they took pride in their St.Thomas heritage and ancient culture and customs. Due to the persian relation the East Syrian liturgy was preserved here in the Syrian language itself.
The arrival of Portuguese missionaries and their interventions in the liturgical traditions and rituals of the St.Thomas Christians caused a lot of misunderstandings. The eastern christians could not tolerate the foreign bishop’s ignorance and refuting of their age- old ‘Marthoma Margam’. Enforcing the western customs and attitudes on the Syrian Christians paved the way for the friction in the church. To save these critical situations Pope Alexander VII appointed the Carmelite missionaries. Still the people of God was longing for an indigenous leadership to the
Kerala church to preserve their identity and uniqueness. In this chaos Bl.Chavara Kuriakose Elias arose as a scintillating star in the horizon of the Kerala church.
Women’s place in the 19th century
“There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly on only one wing.”(Swami Vivekananda) Kerala society till late 19th century was not based on the principals of social freedom and equality. Slavery along with untouchability and inapproachability were prevailing in its most primitive forms. Women were knuckling under the yolk of male dominancy. The saying of ‘Manusmruthi’ “Na stri swathantramarhathi” was perfectly realized in their lives. Deprived of any form of education and respected jobs some of the underprivileged women even resorted to prostitution to make a living. If a woman were to decide to remain single she would be ridiculed and pitied by the community. The catholic women too were far behind religiously, socially and economically. Even though the Christian family atmosphere was very much contusive for the sprouting and emerging of religious life till the second half of the ninetieth century it remained as a dream.
1The Chronicles of the Koonamavu Convent, 21
St.Chavara - The golden star in the herald of the East
Fr. Chavara was born on Feb.10th 1805 in Kainakari, Alapuzha which has been acclaimed as the ‘Venice of the East’ from pious parents Chavara Kuriakose and Mariam. It was Fr.Thomas Palackal who detected the extra ordinary talents and gifts in the boy Kuriakose at an early age and he joined the seminary while he was ten.
God’s ways are always wonderful and mysterious. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose”(Rom.8/27). He leads each person in order to accomplish His design to him. Fr.Chavara too had to tread on a stony path of sufferings and separation as his parents and only brother died due to an epidemic.
‘The will of God will not lead us where the grace of god can’t sustain us.’ Crossing all the barriers he was ordained on 29 November 1829. In his first mass said together with the Bishop he made the intention for the realization of the monastery project already begun at Mannanam. Along with the pastoral services he dedicated himself fully for the first indigenous monastery with the holy and wise priests Fr.Palackal and Fr.Porukara. In 1831 the first indigenous men congregation of the Syro-Malabar Church came into existence and in 1855 Bl.Chavara was the first member to take vows in this religious order which was known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI).
Ever since St.Chavara’s mind was longing for establishing on Malabar soil a religious house for women, which would be a ‘citadel for virtues’. As our sisters writes in the chronicles “He was not only a bright lamp and a model for all Christians of Kerala but also a strong pillar of the church, by his zeal in its faith and in its growth.”2 St.Chavara’s first two attempts
“Wisdom renews all things, in every generation. She passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets” (Wisdom 7/27).Yes, god acts through the
2 The chronicles of Koonamavu convent, 210
very instrumentality of the holy and simple lives to challenge the humanity in order to renew it. It was a long cherished dream of St.Chavara to start an ‘abode of virtues’ for the women for learning doctrines and traditions of the Catholic religion as well as to make them good Christians. Fr.Leopold the co-founder of CMC himself witnessed that the foundation of the convent was the topic of constant prayer and unceasing desire for Fr.Chavara.3
In 1859 the first attempt was made. A place near Alangad kunnel Church was considered. Since the place was far away from the monastery the project was given up. Subsequently Puthenpally was found to be an ideal place for the convent. The plot was leased to Bp.Bernardine Baccinelli, the Vicar apostolic of Verapoli for building a convent and the construction works begun. A compound wall of 13 feet height was being constructed all around. But God had another plan. Before the candidates could arrive and take possession, the unity of Catholicism in the Malabar coast was once again threatened due to Roccos Schism. As the Koonamavu chronicle says “on account of turmoil created, the construction of the convent too was stopped. By God’s grace, when then strife ceased seeing that many souls were being lost for want of good priests a decision was taken to change the convent into a seminary”4
Being a man of great faith Fr.Chavara resigned to God’s plans and patiently waited for His time with the aspiration “God’s will is done. It will always be done”.
Fr.Leopold Beccaro: The co-founder
3CMC in the shadow of the Most high,33
4The Chronicles of Koonamavu convent,21
spiritual director of many priests including Fr.Chavara. In 1863 this young missionary was appointed as the delegate provincial of third order of Carmelites. Contrary to the situations Fr.Leopold stayed at Koonamavu, instead of Verapoli and thus he got acquainted with the cultural heritage of and richness of St.Thomas Christians and he creatively involved in the struggle of St.Thomas Christians for autonomy. The meeting of these two spirit filled persons paved the way for the emergence of the first indigenous women congregation of the Syro-Malabar church.
The Dream comes true
Fr.Chavara was appointed as the vicar general of the Syrians in eighteen sixty one and for the administerial convenience he moved to Koonamavu monastery where providentially Fr.Leopold was appointed as the novice master. It is in such a context that Fr.Leopold happened to know that the widow Vakayil Eliswa aged 34 and her daughter Anna aged 14, who had vowed to spend their life in consecrated chastity.The Koonamavu chronicle gives a vivid picture of this “at this time the widow Eliswa and her only daughter were members of this parish ………..they used to go for confession and direction to Fr.Leopold Moopachan. They told him that they had decided to live a life of chastity till their death.” 5 Fr.Leopold confided their desire to Fr.Chavara . He himself records in both the chronicles of Koonamavu convent and Mannanam monastery about the extreme joy he felt when he heard Fr.Leopold speaking about the same matter for which he himself was longing since a long time. Vyppisery Thresia the younger sister of Eliswa and Puthanangadi Clara too expressed their desire to join the convent.
After having a general idea about the convent Fr.Chavara along with Fr.Leopold approached Mgr.Bernardine Baccinelli, the Vicar Apostolic for his consent and informed him the entire enterprise. He agreed with them and ordered that the proposed religious community should assume the name ‘Third Order Carmelites’.
5The Chronicles of Koonamavu convent, 22
The Humble beginning of C.M.C
CMC was born on 13th February 1866 in Koonamavu, a small village in the present arch eparchy of Ernakulam -Angamali as the first indigenous women congregation in the Syro-Malabar church under the divine patronage of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in the loving providence of God the Most High. It was founded as the third order of discalced Carmelites with the legal permission of Mgr.Bernadaine Baccinelli , the Vicar Apostolic of Verapoli.The founder Bl.Kuriakose Elias Chavara and the co-founder Fr.Leopold Beccaro O.C.D prepared a bamboo convent (Panambu madom) with the conviction that God can make a big tree out of this small mustard seed.
‘The virgins who were anxiously awaiting to enclose themselves in the solitude of the convent’ were Eliswa Vakayil a widow, her daughter Anna Vakayil, Thressia Vyppisery the younger sister of Eliswa and Eliswa Puthanangadi (Clara) a widow. ‘They were given a small brown scapular’ and the ‘Te Deum’ was sung in Syrian by Fr.Chavara and in Latin by Fr.Leopold. The fathers with paternal care arranged and kept everything in each room. Eliswa was appointed as the superior and they were given instructions about the different aspects of the religious way of life. Their hearts overwhelmed with joy and gratitude and Bl.Chavara praised the Lord The first panambu madom was an abode of poverty, since they had to meet the challenges of climate, poisonous snakes etc. The fathers tried to build a strong convent for them. After that what happened was a miracle. The prophesy of the fathers that ‘God will make you a strongly built convent before it is time to re-thatch and renew the leaves of the roof and the bamboo mats’ 8 became realized on 27th March 1967 when they transferred into a newly flourished building with all the rooms fully furnished. 16th July 1968 was a great day in the annals of Kerala church. Two widows and two virgins consecrated themselves to Lord and received Him as their spouse. They dedicated themselves to prayer and meditation in the cloister and at the same time they would engage in the work of education of girls in Edukumdat (Boarding for girls).The realization of the dream was a milestone in the history of Syro-Malabar church. The nurturing hands of Bl.Chavara and Fr.Leopold protected C.M.C in her infancy. But they were not fortunate enough to enjoy their service for a long time. Putting an end to his tiresome but fruitful life Bl.Chavara ‘the brave son of Kairali’
flew to his heavenly abode on January 3rd 1871. Fr.Leopold had to go back to Italy leaving his novices and beloved daughters under suspicion that he was supporting the Syrians in their struggle for autonomy.
Bifurcation of T.O.C.D into C.M.C and C.T.C
The decree ‘Quad iampridem’ promulgated by Pope Leo XIII marked a new era in the history of the congregation as it separated Syrian Christians from the Latin jurisdiction by establishing two vicariates for them namely Trichur and Kottayam. In Koonamavu convent there were sisters belonging to the three vicariates Verapoly, Trichur and Kottayam. As directed by the the Kottayam Vicar Apostolic Charles Lavinge 13 sisters of Kottayam vicariate moved from Koonamavu to Mutholi and formed a new convent there. On 18th April 1890, as per the decree of the Holy See the jurisdiction of the convent at Koonamavu came under the vicariate of Trichur. Consequently seven members belonging to the Latin rite ( 5 Professed sisters, one lay sister and a boarder ) shifted to Verapoli on 17th September 1890, and they became an independent community under latin jurisdiction. With deep sentiments of sorrow the sisters bid farewell to latin sisters. The successors of these latin sisters known today as Congregation of Theresian Carmelites (C.T.C).
The growth of C.M.C under the Local Hierarchs
On 28th July 1896 Pope Leo XIII reorganized the existing vicariates of Trichur and Kottayam into three of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanaserry by the decree “Quae reisacre”. The members of Trichur vicariate were brought to Ambhazhakad by Trichur Vicar Apostolic on 9th may 1987. Bl.Euphrasia who was an aspirant at that time was one among them. The further bifurcations of the vicariates paved the way for forming new units of the congregation Pala in 1952, Kothamangalam in 1956 and Tellichery in 1961 with their own Mother generals. Even though they had the regula given by Fr.Leopold in 1875, the local bishops gave their own too. Thus the congregation flourished very fast under the patronage of local bishops while enjoying the spiritual support and care of the members of C.M.I congregation.
Unification in 1963
Imbibing the spirit of 2nd Vatican Council which was a clarion call for renewal Fr.Hippolitus Kunnumkal OFM Cap. was delegated by the Congregation for the Oriental churches to unify the carmelite communities spread out through the Syro-Malabar dioceses of Kerala. 16th November 1963 was a great day in the annals of C.M.C as this homecoming was really a challenge for the pioneers. Mother Mary Celine became the first superior general. On 2nd March the congregation was raised to the Pontifical status under the name ‘Congregation of the Mother of Carmel’ (C.M.C) and the constitution of the unified C.M.C was provisionally approved.
Our founder father St.Chavara was a man of great faith and religious vision. He experienced God as his ‘Abba’ and spent hours in the presence of his omniscient and omnipresent Master. His prayer was always in line with his active life. His vision on religious life is envisaged in three phrases ‘lead a clean spiritual life, ensure the salvation of the souls and build a house of virtues.’ He reminded his daughters “to live in the love of Christ, always be in His presence, always walk close to Him, and always talk with him.”6 His deep mystical experience thrilled his heart and overflowed to the entire humanity as in the form of service.
6Complete works of Fr.Chavara vol . iv,82
7 Letters of Fr.Leopold,6
The charism of our Congregation is personal sanctity and redemptive uplift of the people of God, especially women and children, through the right blending of contemplation and action. Be holy and lead others to holiness is its essence. The charism obliges us not only to work for our own sanctity but also for the salvation and sanctification of souls, remaining united with the Father through contemplation and accomplishing apostolic services by following the example of Jesus who fulfilled the will of His Father by praying in the solitude of the mountains, preaching the kingdom of God and doing good to all.
The spiritual vision that permeated the whole life of our founder St. Kuriakose consists in acknowledging God as his loving Father, the fellow beings as his own brethren, the Church, as his mother and the whole world as his own family.
The contemplative and apostolic aspects of our charism are depicted in our motto: “Remain united to Me in contemplation and consecrated to Me in action.”8 Thus we share the god experience of our founders which consists of Abba experience, constant awareness of the indwelling presence , faith and absolute trust in providential care and total surrender to seek and do God’s will always in humility and joy. Mother Mary who was a contemplative mystic and an active evangelizer is our role model.
Our Apostolic Call
“Religious should carefully consider through them, Christ should be shown contemplating on the mountain, announcing God’s kingdom to the multitudes, healing the sick, turning sinners to wholesome fruit, blessing children, doing good to all, and always obeying the will of the father who sent Him” (L.G.46) As a collaboration with the Eternal Designer, we render our apostolic services not only in India but also in the continents of Africa, America and Europe. More than ten percentage of our sisters are involved in direct evangelization through Home mission, retreat preaching, counseling etc. A vast majority of our sisters are engaged in aposlates of education, care of the sick and social work.
8 CMC constitutions,7
Indian missions highlight the missionary drive of C.M.C and its vitality.
In addition to these traditional forms of apostolates we extend our service in view of more intense and effective experience of prayer, service of the church and identification with the poor in keeping our constitution and charism. A few of our sisters live in a semi cloistered house at Karukutty which is the ‘power cell’ for the entire congregation. “We collaborate with the hierachy, clergy and other religious, laity, civil authorities and all human beings of good will in making our contribution to the establishing of God’s kingdom.”9 Reading the signs of the time we move into new pastures such as City evangelization , Railway Platform rescue works, rehabilitation of the run-away children, short stay homes, asylum for the H.I.V patients and boarding schools for their children, de-addiction centres , prison ministry, women empowerment programmes and service among the migrant workers etc.
“Mother Mary is the example of that maternal affection which animate all of us who co-operate in the apostolate of the church for the regeneration of our fellow beings.” (L.G 65) Like Mary we too ‘with haste’ are sensitive to the needs of others and involve in the affairs of the church and the world.
St.Euphrasia- The Rose of Carmel
St.Chavara had once lamented “In the land of Malayalam even though the true Christian religion was in practice from very early times, there existed no monatries or convents.” 10 In his attempt to counteract the situation he founded the C.M.I and C.M.C. congregations. St.Euphrasia ‘the hidden rose of Carmel is the fulfillment of his dream.
Mother Euphrasia was born on October 17th 1877 in the ancient catholic Eluvathingal family of Anthony and Kunjethy. At the age of nine she offered her virginity eternally to the Lord and received Christ as her beloved spouse. On October 24th 1988 she entered the boarding house in Koonamavu convent. Even though the
9 CMC constitutions,45
10 The chronicles of Koonamavu convent,21
authorities remarked that she did not have adequate physical health to continue by a miraculous vision the ‘Holy Family’ cured her. On 10th January 1898, she received the religious habit and two years later she did her final commitment to the Lord. The praying Mother always experienced the divine presence in her soul and was really a moving tabernacle. She uttered these words “Won’t forget even after death” for all the favors received from others. Silence and solitude in itself is therapeutic in a noisy, hectic world. It is to be remembered that creative silence and solitude means silence of ambition, silence of powers, silence of luxurious needs, silence of aggression etc. Bl.Euphrasia’s life consolidates these beautiful features by her hidden life.
Her odour of sanctity still spread across the interior of carmel and points the way of the valiant men and women of god. Now C.M.C is proudly preparing for the long awaited day ,November 23 the canonization day of her founder Bl.Kuriakose Elias Chavara and her beloved daughter Bl.Euphrasia.
The present profile of C.M.C
The tiny seedling planted in the fertile soil of Koonamavu now began to spread its shade all over the world within a century and a half crossing all the barriers of time and space. Now she has 20 provinces and 6 regions including Africa as an independent region and at about 6500 professed sisters working all over the four continents. In the agony of separation and in the midst of turbulences His eagle wings sheltered and nourished her satisfying her hunger with manna from heaven and quenching her thirst with water from the rock. .
Rabindra Nath Tagore says ‘This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again and fillest it even with fresh life. Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass , and thou pourest ,and still there is room to fill.’ Yes, as the clarion call for the 150th Jubilee echoes C.M.C proudly moves to new vistas holding on the hands of Our Lady Of Mount Carmel beneath the shadow of the Most High listening to His whispering ‘take courage, it is I.’
Benecasia. The Chronicles of Koonamavu convent , trans. Seraphia cmc . Aluva: C.M.C Publications, 2002.
C.M.C Constitutions, Mount Carmel Generalate, 1976.
Jossy.CMC in the shadow of the Most High, trans. Susan cmc, Seraphia cmc.Aluva: Mount Carmel Generalate, 1997.
Letters of Father Leopold, trans. Leo cmc. Aluva: Mount Carmel Generalate,
Mundadan, Mathias. Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara , Bangalore: Dharmaram publications , 2008 .