CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CNS) — Hundreds of people filled a spacious, brightly lit building in south Charlotte in July for an occasion years in the making: the consecration of a permanent church for the Indian Catholic community in the Queen City.

St. Mary’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church was dedicated July 22 by Bishop Jacob Angadiath during Holy Qurbana, or Mass, celebrated mostly in the Malayalam language.

It is the first permanent home for Charlotte’s Indian Catholic community –- comprised of about 45 registered families and growing –- and only the second Syro-Malabar Catholic church in North Carolina.

“We have consecrated this church for the public worship of God. It is a gift of God, and let us give thanks to God,” said Bishop Jacob, who shepherds the St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy, which is based in Chicago and encompasses all Syro-Malabar Catholics in the U.S.

Auxiliary Bishop Joy Alappatt, of the Chicago eparchy, and Bishop Peter J. Jugis, who heads the Latin-rite Diocese of Charlotte, concelebrated the four-hour liturgy, along with several other priests.

Bishop Jacob thanked local clergy including Bishop Jugis and Msgr. John McSweeney, retired pastor of St. Matthew Church in Charlotte and a concelebrant, for being a “great source of inspiration and help and support to our community.”

He also acknowledged the hard work of the faithful, as well as Father Paul Chalissery, pastor of the new church, and the other Indian priests who minister to the community, and the local Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and Missionaries of Charity for their prayers and support.

“It’s not an easy task” to build a church, he said, smiling as he expressed gratitude to everyone from the building committee members to the choir. “Every eucharistic celebration is the greatest thanksgiving.

“As we celebrate the Holy Qurbana, the Holy Mass, here in the church,,” he continued, “we give the greatest thanksgiving to God Almighty for all the blessings we receive every day, and especially the wonderful gift of this particular church. So let us keep in our hearts this gratitude to God Almighty, with all our love, with all our gratitude.”

During the rite of consecration, Bishop Jacob blessed the walls of the church, marked by four small crosses, as well as everyone gathered for the Mass, with holy water and incense. He also anointed the crosses and the altars in the sanctuary with sacred chrism, and lit the flower-adorned paschal candle.

At the end of Mass, Bishop Jacob officially elevated St. Mary’s from its mission status to that of a parish, and he appointed Father Chalissery as pastor.

“The Syro-Malabar Catholic community by nature is a missionary community,” Father Chalissery noted. “The consecration is a fulfillment of our dream and our responsibility to hand down the Syro-Malabar Catholic tradition to our next generation and to the people of Charlotte.”

St. Matthew Church in Charlotte, under the leadership of its former pastor, Msgr. McSweeney, was instrumental in supporting the Indian Catholic community and building the church. Parishioners from the diocese’s largest parish were on hand for the celebration, and the parish’s new pastor, Father Pat Hoare, was among the concelebrants of the Mass.

Msgr. McSweeney recalled that plans for a Syro-Malabar church named in honor of St. Mary began 30 years ago, then said with a smile, “For the first time in western (North) Carolina today, we’re all part of the establishment of St. Mary Syro-Malabar Parish, and this is truly a day for us to rejoice.”

Two years of planning, led by Father Chalissery and a 16-member building committee, went into the $1.4 million project, which included the purchase of five acres in south Charlotte as well as construction of the church.

The 10,000-square-foot church, which seats approximately 500 people, features a brightly-lit nave, or “haykla,” and spacious sanctuary, or “madbaha,” that contains the altar of sacrifice as well as a little altar and two elaborately carved wooden lecterns.

A striking apse mural frames a statue of Christ ascending to heaven, with Mary and St. Thomas among the witnesses watching him in amazement. Ginto Pottackal of Baltimore painted the scene from Chapter 1, Verses 6-11. The high altar features a carved wood diorama of the Last Supper.

The building also has 10 classrooms and other office facilities.

In his homily at the July 22 Mass, Bishop Jugis noted that just as the church is consecrated to God, the growing community of Indian Catholic faithful are similarly consecrated –- and they must take what they receive in church out into the wider community.

“This new church is a sign of the amazing growth of our Catholic community in this area, and we give thanks to Almighty God for this blessing –- this growth of the Catholic faithful –- and the many opportunities that the Lord therefore gives us to serve Him as our community grows,” Bishop Jugis said.

Consecrating a church sets it apart from other places, dedicating it exclusively for the worship of God through the offering of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, he explained. Through worship and reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, the faithful are “transformed by the power of God’s grace, to grow in holiness.”

That transformation does not end at the church door, he emphasized.

“This church is a center of evangelization. From this place we want Christ’s message to go out to the whole world. We want the love of Christ, which you celebrate here at this altar, to be taken beyond the confines of this physical building –- into your homes, your neighborhoods, your workplaces, every place.”

The mission of every Catholic church around the world is to share the good news of the Gospel, which flows from the Eucharist and transforms and purifies the faithful so that they can bring that Gospel message to others, he said.

With about 4.6 million members, the Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest church among the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the pope. It is one of the two Eastern Catholic Churches from India, the other being the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. Both Indian churches trace their roots to St. Thomas the Apostles arriving there in A.D. 52.

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Guilfoyle is editor of the Catholic News Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte.