The spiritual leader of the Indian subcontinent’s 4.6 million Roman Catholic adherents, His Eminence Cardinal George Alencherry of the Archdiocese of Ernakulan-Angamaly India, delivered the homily during a Mass of Thanksgiving on Thursday morning at St. Peter Catholic Church in Pine Bluff.
The Rev. Father Anil Thomas, St. Peter’s pastor, secured the Cardinal’s attendance at the event thanks to the connections of his uncle, who is a bishop in the Catholic Church. The Mass was the official kickoff for St. Peter’s 110th anniversary celebration.
“His Eminence Cardinal George Alencherry is the head of the Syro-Malabar Church, one of 22 Eastern or Oriental Catholic Churches,” Thomas said in his introduction. “It is the second-largest Eastern Catholic Church after the Ukrainian Church and the largest of the St. Thomas Christian Churches.”
Thomas said Alencherry was made a Cardinal on Feb. 18, 2012, and participated in the election of Pope Francis earlier this year.
The sanctuary of St. Peter was the epitome of diversity and multiculturalism Thursday, and included black, white, Hispanic and south Asian congregants who mirrored the diversity of the clergy. A gospel choir sang at regular intervals throughout the mass and much of the liturgy was read in both English and Spanish.
Nuns from the Missionaries of Charity, an order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, were in attendance.
A Color Corps honor guard made up of members of the Arkansas District Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus assembled for the arrival and the departure of the clergy.
Alencherry began his homily by sharing an anecdote from his homeland.
“In a remote village a mother lived with her son,” Alencherry said. “The boy’s father died early and the boy’s mother loved her son too much; she spoiled him. Unfortunately he did not listen to his mother. He would leave the house early in the day and not return until late in the evening. His mother was very worried because there was no electricity in the village and her son had to return home in the dark. She decided to place a lamp outside the house and told her son to take it with him so that he would be able to return home safely.”
Alencherry said that soon after this happened the boy’s attitude changed and he began to listen to and to appreciate his mother.
“She asked her son what it was that had changed him,” Alencherry said. “He told his mother that she had lit a light inside his heart with her actions. The love of Jesus Christ is a lamp that burns in our hearts. Let us be humble in the Lord. Jesus laid down his life for us. When you live for others you live for yourself and for God.”
Alencherry remarked that the world is full of hatred.
“There is much conflict and rivalry in the world,” Alencherry said. “India is a very diverse country and there is some hate that exists between communities. The Holy Father wants mercy for us. People are excited about our new Pope. But are we getting humble like him? His style has become his message.”
Alencherry said he was enjoying his short visit to Arkansas and Pine Bluff during a conversation at a reception in his honor held at St. Joseph Catholic Church after the Mass.
“Before I left India I was told that Pine Bluff was a small town in a little state and that it wasn’t very pretty,” Alencherry said. “But now that I am here I see that everything is actually very nice. I found out that Little Rock isn’t little at all; it’s actually pretty big.”
Alencherry said he enjoyed being a part of the mass at St. Peter.
“I really like the people here,” Alencherry said. “They have a real sense of being together in the church. They are very joyful. You can tell that they are serious about their faith. They praise God and are of all races and cultures and that is wonderful. It is also what we experience in India.”
Alencherry said Pope Francis is intent on bringing the Church back to the people that it serves.
“He is with the people and wants all of the clergy to see that we belong out with the people,” Alencherry said. “Jesus Christ was with the people in public places. He was a man of the people and His Holiness expects us to be the same. We all share a oneness and must enter into a dialogue built on truth and love. That is God. We get that gift from God in our hearts.
“Whenever you feel at ease with someone that is divine,” Alencherry said. “If you begin to feel estranged then you are getting away from God.”
Monsignor David LeSieur of the Diocese of Little Rock took part in the Mass.
Several city dignitaries were present, including Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth; mayoral aide Evelyn Horton; Pine Bluff Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks; Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell; Jefferson County Judge Dutch King; Jefferson County Sheriff Gerald Robinson; State Sen. Stephanie Flowers; and former Pine Bluff mayor Carl Redus.