Amidst a colourful scene of bright saris and freshly pressed suits, the words “I and Jesus are no longer two, we are one” rang out from a crowded church in Sydney’s west.
These words, first spoken by St Therese of Lisieux at her first Holy Communion, were repeated proudly by 12 children who were set to receive the sacraments of Solemn First Communion and confirmation in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Rite in November.
Hundreds of family, friends and members of the Christ the King Villawood Mission community poured into St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Moorebank, for the sacraments which was administered by Mar John Panamthottathil CMI, Bishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle, Melbourne.
Celebrating their traditional Syriac liturgy as part of his first pastoral visit to the Villawood community, Bishop Panamthottathil CMI spoke to the children on the loving and real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and its importance to their spiritual lives through the example of St Therese of Lisieux.
“Today we are going to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ,” said the visiting bishop.
“Jesus himself gives his body and blood to you and then says, ‘This is my body, this is my blood, take this, eat it and drink it,’ and what happens?
“We believe, when we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, we will become like Jesus.
“We will get all the qualities of Jesus—the love, kindness, forgiveness, mercy, assurance, all the qualities of Jesus—that is why we receive Jesus and Jesus will be with you like a good friend to guide and protect you.”
As a spiritual gift to those making their Solemn First Communion, Bishop Panamthottathil CMI taught the children four beautiful prayers, or mantras, that would be easy to remember and which would “help keep the divine presence in them.”
“When you get up in the morning you can pray, O Jesus, I praise you,” said Bishop Panamthottathil CMI.
“When you got to school you can pray, ‘O Jesus, please help me.’
“When you do something wrong against your parents or teachers you can pray the third mantra, ‘O Jesus, I’m sorry.’
“And finally when you go to bed you can pray the fourth mantra, ‘O Jesus, I thank you.’
“If you pray these four mantras, Jesus will be with you as a good friend.”
Attended by a number of clergy from the Syro-Malabar Catholic Rite as well as Moorebank priests Fr Mathew Velliyamkandathil CRS and Fr Chris de Sousa CRS, the liturgy was elevated by the sounds and cymbals of the choir with the support of the whole community.
For Syro-Malabar Catholics, Holy Communion is given at the time of the sacrament of baptism but is to be solemnly administered after a child has attained the age of reason and after due catechetical instruction and the reception of the sacrament of penance.
Raimol Viji, a member of the catechist team, said that the catechetical instruction took over four months of preparation and a weekly commitment from the whole community.
“Using resources from the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Commission for Catechesis and department of Catechesis of Melbourne Syro-Malabar Eparchy, the children learned about the sacraments, how to prepare for them and the importance of personal prayer and the sacramental life,” said Viji.
“We do interactive games to make them understand the commandments, how sins affect our life and how these sacraments rejuvenate our spiritual life.”
As a parent of one of the children receiving their Solemn First Communion from the bishop, Santhosh Skaria said it was a proud and memorable moment for them.
“Receiving the sacrament from the bishop is a great honour for our kids in their journey of faith and something beautiful to look back on and treasure,” said Skaria.
“We had a procession at the beginning of the mass with all the family members and priest, along with the bishop, and it was a great opportunity for the community to walk into the church all together with those kids receiving their communion.
“It felt like an announcement to the public, that Jesus is our saviour and kids are going to receive Jesus.”
Born in Kerala, India, Bishop Panamthottathil CMI was ordained as the second bishop of the Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle, Melbourne, in June 2023.
The Syro-Malabar Eparchy of St Thomas the Apostle, Melbourne was established in December 2013 – the second such eparchy outside India.
The Melbourne Eparchy’s jurisdiction includes all of Oceania and currently has 13 parishes and 37 missions across Australia and 16 missions in New Zealand.