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Proud mom in India now has two sons who are bishops

Bishop John Nellikunnel (left) and Bishop Mathew Nellikunnel (right) with the priest of St. Mary's parish in Mariyapuram

Facebook / Paroisse Sainte-Marie de Mariyapuram

Bishop John Nellikunnel (left) and Bishop Mathew Nellikunnel (right) with the priest of St. Mary's parish in Mariyapuram

Aleteia - published on 09/15/23

Fr. Matthew Nellikunnel was appointed bishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church on August 26. He follows his brother, John, appointed bishop in 2018.

“And that’s two!” It’s probably a phrase Mary Nellikunnel never thought she’d say referring to her sons becoming bishops. And yet on August 26, this Indian mother saw her second son, Matthew, become a bishop, following in the footsteps of his younger brother John. They are respectively bishops of the diocese of Gorakhpur, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, and of the diocese of Idukki, in the southern state of Kerala.

Proud parish and family

Bishop John Nellikunnel had been appointed bishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in 2018. His brother’s appointment by Pope Francis made their home parish, located in the Idukki district, proud. “When the news was flashed about Father Nellikunnel’s elevation as a bishop, it was unbelievable as the family already has one bishop,” a parishioner tells UCA News. “We never could imagine that priests from the same family would be appointed bishops,” he said joyfully.

Matthew and John both chose to become priests, while their only sister, Tessina, became a nun. Two other brothers have married and settled in Idukki.

For their mother Mary, the appointment of her second son to the bishopric is a grace, “a special care of God for our family.” “I still do not know if I am worthy of such great blessings,” she said with emotion.

This is the third case in the history of the Indian Church where siblings have become bishops, notes UCA News. On December 31, 2022, Fr. Sebastiao Mascarenhas, 63, was appointed bishop of Baroda in western India; his younger brother, Theodore Mascarenhas, was appointed auxiliary bishop of Ranchi in the state of Jharkhand in 2015. Jesuit bishop Alphonsus F. D’Souza and his younger brother Albert had also been appointed bishops earlier in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

Living and dying for Christ

“As long as he is alive, he should lead a pious life,” she exhorted. “I understand that life in a mission diocese like Gorakhpur is very challenging. I want him to live and die for Christ. If it is not possible, (there is) no point in becoming a missionary,” she continued, referring to the extremely difficult situation facing Christians in the state of Uttar Pradesh. It is India’s most populous state and records the highest number of anti-Christian incidents of any of the country’s 28 states.

According to the ecumenical organization United Christian Forum (UCF), from January to July there had been over 400 anti-Christian incidents. The state of Uttar Pradesh holds the record for the number of attacks on the physical integrity of Christians, with 155 cases, followed by Chhattisgarh with 84 acts of violence.

Persecution has been on the rise since 2014, when Narendra Modi came to power in India. At the head of the BJP, he imposes a strong Hindu nationalism, which excludes Christian and Muslim minorities. Christians, mostly Protestants, account for 2.3% of India’s total population, or 30 million of the country’s 1.3 billion inhabitants.

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