A tree is recognized by its fruits. Likewise, a mature ecclesial community is identified
by its faith, often manifested in the number of saints and martyrs it produces. The
Syro-Malabar community in Kerala, India’s southernmost state, has this distinct
“honor of the altar.” Agostino Thevarparampil, popularly known as Kunjachan (“little
priest”), is the fourth person to be beatified from this Church that dates to the
Peanuts comic-strip creator Charles Schulz’s simple philosophy was that it
is not people with credentials who make a difference in our lives, but people who
care. Among those whose caring lives far outweigh their credentials, we confidently
place Blessed Kunjachan (pronounced Koon-ja-chun).
Neither orator nor organizer, neither writer nor scholar, Kunjachan was less than
five feet tall but had a giant soul. His sanctity integrated spiritual care of people
with social concern. He was a pastor and an emancipator. In the caste-ridden Indian
society, the Dalits (“downtrodden”) are the low-caste untouchables, traditionally
assigned menial works of sanitation. Doomed to a demeaning status by birth, they
are treated as slaves of the elite and deprived of development opportunities. Kunjachan
dedicated 40 years of his life to uplifting these underprivileged.
After four years of service as assistant parish priest, Kunjachan returned to his
home parish for health reasons. Soon he had baptized 200 Dalits. Keenly aware of
their plight, he visited the Dalits daily, often in their places of work. Soon his
personal approach had encouraged more than 5,000 Dalits to convert to the Church.
Kunjachan faced opposition from the non-Christian high caste and traditional Christians,
but his cordial disposition led people of all castes and religions to visit him.
April 1, 1891
Born in Ramapuram, Kerala, India
December 17, 1921
Ordained as diocesan priest
October 16, 1973
Dies—and his tomb draws pilgrims
Miracle through Kunjachan’s intercession
April 30, 2006
Beatified by Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil, leader of the Syro-Malabar
Kunjachan’s missionary zeal sprang from his deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament
and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The charismatic priest continued Christ’s mission of
setting the captives free. He wrote, “I do not possess anything either as landed
property or as cash account. After my death, my funeral must be conducted in the
simplest way. Ever since 1926, I had been staying with the Harijan [Dalit] Christians.
Even after death, I would like to be with them. Therefore my dead body should be
buried where the Harijan Christians are buried.”
Kunjachan’s life particularly inspires pastors, social activists and missiologists.
Although he did not claim to achieve anything for the poor, we know that he proclaimed
good news by his radical acceptance of the rejected.
Kunjachan is blessed in three ways. First, his many virtues bear testimony to the
Beatitudes. Second, since blessed and happy are biblical synonyms,
he is enjoying the invitation of the final judgment: “Come, you who are blessed by
my Father. Inherit the kingdom”
for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for
me” (see Matthew 25). Third, Blessed Agostino Thevarparampil is now a model for Catholics
the world over to follow in faith and felicity.
Next: Ceferino Giménez Malla