Rev. Dr. Abraham Mulamoottil
Stepping Forward with a Look Back in Time
Make me a Lamp to Light the World
God, make me poor, so that I can feel what hunger is…
God, make me rich, so that I can feed all who are starving…
God, make me lonely, so that I can feel the pain of loneliness…
God, make me a friend, so that no one remains lonely…
God make a lamp, so that I can light the World…
Rev. Dr. Abraham Mulamoottil (Achen) was born the fifth of six children to Mariamma and M. V. Varughese—on 24th November 1954. Even as a young boy his active and inquisitive mind was naturally drawn towards the various facets of science and technology. This fascination with science, developed through the years, has played a key role in the formation of his ideas and principles. These ideas have been the driving force of Achen’s tireless efforts to work for the advancement of his fellow Indians.
Life in the Seminary
Achen’s then parish priest, Fr. Alexander Arakkapadavil, played an important role in his life, particularly during his formative years. Fr. Arakkapadavil through his words and deeds inspired the young lad to emulate him by embracing the vocation of priesthood. So, after completing his schooling at M.G.M. High School, Tiruvalla, the young Abraham joined the I.M.M minor seminary in 1970 to pursue his chosen vocation.
At the minor seminary as well as at the major seminary thereafter, his love for music and his mellifluous voice made Achen well known as a singer. His immense talent resulted in the authorities entrusting him with several key positions in the music ministry including the choirmaster of the Apostolic Seminary at Vadavathoor, Kottayam from 1973 to 1980.
Achen’s aptitude and love for music continued to flourish after his ordination inspiring him, among other things, to release a Christian devotional songs cassette and improvise the songs of the Malankara Holy Mass. In 1998, he had the opportunity to use his musical talent to conduct the Malayalam choir during a Holy Mass at the Asian Bishops Synod held in Vatican. The (late) Pope John Paul II was the main celebrant at this Eucharistic Celebration.
All the activities at the seminary could not keep Achen’s dynamic mind from looking for ways to improve his knowledge. During this never-ending quest, as a student of philosophy and theology, the young seminarian came across the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and great philosopher who spent a large part of his life trying to integrate religious experience with natural science, specifically Christian theology with the theories of evolution. Teilhard’s “The Phenomenon of Man”, wherein he talks about the evolution and purpose of man’s existence, particularly attracted Achen. According to Teilhard, as evolution takes place along the axis of complexification and matter passes from the relatively simple to the complex, the matter could have taken any form but it became human. Even among the potentially millions of humans who could have been formed from that matter, only we (the humans on this earth) were formed. This implies that there is a purpose for each human being’s existence. The idea crystallized Achen’s thinking and understanding of self. The thought that each human being is precious, strengthened by Teilhard’s philosophy, was the ideology that Achen carried with him into the world as he began his priestly ministry.
First Decade of Priesthood
Following his ordination, Achen’s first posting was as assistant to Fr. Jacob Kootaplackal at the St George, Chakundu, Palakkad and St Mary’s, Kombazha, Thrissur parishes. Thereafter, he became the vicar of the said parishes. From 1983 to 1991, Achen also served at St. Mary’s, Pandankery, St. Josephs, Niranam, St Mary’s, Mannar East, St. Catherine, Mannar West, and St Mary’s, Thalavady North and South parishes.
During his first 10 years as an ordained minister of the Church Achen also held several key positions in the Diocese of Tiruvalla such as, Director of the Department of Catechesis, Director of the Malankara Catholic Youth Movement (MCYM), and Director of the Family Apostolate. Through these ministries he became actively involved with the laity of the Diocese. He strove hard to develop their perception and value of self. Some of the initiatives he undertook in this regard include:
Department of Catechesis: Began “Jesus Camp” for school going children during summer vacations to improve their biblical and liturgical knowledge, personality development, and encourage vocations
MCYM: Started a Career Information Centre to advance employment and educational opportunities for the diocesan youth
Family Apostolate: Set up a Catholic Study Circle for the development of lay leadership. This group was the forerunner of the present Malankara Catholic Association (MCA)
Achen also organized several seminars, retreats, and educational and training programs for the young members of the Diocese to provide them with opportunities to harness their latent skills. The fact that several young participants of these programs have gone on to become leaders in the fields of politics, social work, and music, bears testimony to the tremendous success of this initiative.
The scope of Achen’s developmental efforts expanded beyond the immediate precincts of the Tiruvalla Diocese when he undertook the task of constructing a new block at the Tiruvalla Pastoral and Catechetical Centre (Santhinilayam). Since time immemorial, followers of various religions have lived in communal harmony in Tiruvalla. The region is home to Hindus, Muslims, and Christians of various denominations. In this milieu, there existed a need for a facility that would enable these different communities to meet and further their symbiotic relationship. It was the recognition of this need that prompted Achen to begin construction of the new Santhinilayam block. The new building, which is frequently used by members of all religions and communities, houses a conference hall, library, and about 40 self-contained rooms.
Achen’s direct and active involvement in the many facets of the Tiruvalla Malankara Catholic Diocese and the Tiruvalla region continued till 1991. In 1991, the immense wealth of knowledge at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium—one of the oldest European Universities—beckoned and he left for Belgium for higher studies. After obtaining a licentiate in Catechesis and Pastoral Studies, he moved on to the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven where he completed a licentiate in Theology. He then went on to pursue his doctoral studies in Theology from the same University. In June 1998, Achen successfully defended his thesis titled “A Contextual Theological Approach to Christian Identity and Its Implication for the Ongoing Faith Formation in India” and acquired his doctorate.
The deep understanding of the importance of self and the love for science were some of the thoughts that Achencarried with him to Belgium. While in Belgium the scope of his philosophical thoughts widened to include not only “self’ but also “others”. This change was largely attributable to the works of the French philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas and his ethical principle “the face of the Other makes me responsible”. It is pertinent to mention here that “The Other” refers not only to the other person/individual in the present but also to the other in the future i.e. future generations.
Back to “God’s Own Country”
Achen’s initial interactions with the Europeans in Belgium increased his awareness of their perception of India. He realized that they looked upon India as a country that fell from pre-colonization glory to post colonization misery. During his 7-year stay in Europe, however, he began noticing a gradual change in this outlook in the 1990s. As India advanced in the field of information technology (IT), the Europeans realized that India was going to be an IT powerhouse.
Prompted by India’s emergence on the global IT scene and inspired by Teilhard’s idea of self worth and Levinas’ philosophy of responsibility towards the Other, Achen returned to India in 1998 with a vision to help further India’s global standing. This vision sowed the seeds of the Mar Athanasious College for Advanced Studies (MACFAST). Although a college with any of the routine pure science disciplines such as Physics or Chemistry would have helped further scientific knowledge among his fellow Indians, it would not make them competitive globally. Knowing this Achen decided to offer unconventional disciplines such as Bioinformatics, Food Science and Technology, Plant Biotechnology, and Phytomedical Science and Technology, at MACFAST.
In his decision to start a college offering courses in modern disciplines, Achen was guided by an idea he has followed most of his life, “marginal hermeneutics” (interpreting tradition from the margins). In keeping with tradition he decided to start a college but at the same time he broke away from tradition by choosing to offer non-traditional courses.
Upon returning to India, Achen set to work earnestly to make the MACFAST idea a reality. He also renewed his active involvement in the Diocese of Tiruvalla after a 7-year hiatus by taking up the positions of Diocesan Chancellor and vicar of the St. Anthony’s parish, Pullad. It was during this time that the Bishop of Tiruvalla, Geevarghese Mar Timotheos and his auxiliary Bishop Thomas Mar Kurilos entrusted him with the task of overseeing the rebuilding of the St. John’s Cathedral at Tiruvalla. It was a case of history repeating itself for the Mulamoottil family because it was Achen’s father who oversaw the construction of the earlier St. John’s Cathedral. Achen therefore, regarded it as highly providential that he was entrusted with this task and accepted it wholeheartedly.
The process of making MACFAST a reality and rebuilding the St. John’s Cathedral were interrupted when Achenbecame the administrator of the Pushpagiri Hospital in 1999. While at Pushpagiri he began negotiations with the then Health Minister Mr. V.C. Kabir to develop the hospital into a Medical College, an initiative that became a reality when Pushpagiri gained recognition as a Medical College in 2002.
In 2001, ill health prompted Achen to resign as administrator of Pushpagiri Hospital. However, as the saying goes, “Every cloud has a silver lining” and the cloud of ill health brought with it the opportunity for Achen to take up two projects close to his heart. Pushpagiri’s loss was MACFAST’s and St. John’s Cathedral’s gain. Years of planning and hard work came to fruition when MACFAST opened its doors to the first batch of students in 2001 and when St. John’s Cathedral was consecrated on September 21, 2004.
Like MACFAST, the St John’s Cathedral is a testimony to Achen’s application of marginal hermeneutics. He broke from tradition by constructing a Church that has a temple-like exterior but conformed to tradition with a conventional Church interior. Some of the traditional aspects (albeit not traditional for a Church) that were integrated with Christian theology to construct the present day St. John’s Cathedral are Kerala Vastuvidya and Vaidika Vastu (i.e. Kerala architecture and temple architecture) and Eastern (Syrian) Christian tradition. At this point it would only be apt to digress and delve into some of the key facets of the St. John’s Cathedral.
Since the construction of the first Malankara Catholic Church in 1930, the structure has undergone 5 iterations. The current St. John’s Cathedral is the 5th version constructed to rectify some of the drawbacks of the 1972 structure such as a leaking roof, potentially unsafe wooden structure, and construction defects leading to high maintenance costs. Even though the primary purpose of reconstructing the Cathedral was to overcome the drawbacks mentioned above, the new structure has emerged as a building of monumental value on Kerala’s landscape. It has a more beautiful architectural design, is cost effective, and environment friendly.
A major attraction in the Church’s interior is the depiction of biblical themes in stained glass. Three key premises that are shown through these biblical themes are: God in search of man, man in search of God, and man in search of the Other. Achen’s objective in choosing such a structure was to provide a place of leisure, ecumenism, and prayer that facilitates inter-generational and inter-faith interaction.
Pioneering Activities Continue
In keeping with his vision of contributing to India’s global success and knowing that every great journey begins with a step, Achen is now involved in the formation of the Central Travancore Development Society (CTDS). He believes that the development of the Travancore region will contribute to Kerala’s development, which in turn will help build a country that is competitive on the global front. When it is formed, the CTDS will be a non-profit, public organization that will help individuals, institutions, and non-resident Keralite associations to facilitate public and private development projects aimed at improving the Central Travancore region.
Achen’s life is proof of St. Paul’s thoughts in the letter to Philippians 1:12, “ I want you to know, my brothers, that the things that have happened to me have really helped the progress of the gospel.” His selfless activities have contributed to furthering the knowledge of the gospel and Christ’s message of love through societal, diocesan, and regional progress. On this joyous occasion as we celebrate the silver jubilee of Achen’s ordination, we pray that the love of Christ continues to manifest itself through his actions for generations to come.
Prayerful congratulations and a wealth of good wishes to you Achen on this memorable and happy occasion of your Silver Jubilee!
On behalf of family,
Vince and Christina