Interviews and Performances - Video List
AP 10 to 1


Syro Malabar mission to Iraq
Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI.

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AP 1C Syro Malabar mission to Iraq Fr. Emmanuel Thelly
Call Number AP 1C
Part Number Part I - Syro Malabar Church
Title Syro Malabar mission to Iraq Fr. Emmanuel Thelly
Duration 6:58
Place of Recording Recorded at the premises of the Little Flower Monastery, Poonjar South, Kerala.
Date of Recording 28 July 2013
Youtube URL
Video Segment (s)  

We are delighted to post this segment from a long conversation with a great scholar and teacher of the Aramaic language and a gem of the Syro Malabar Church and the CMI Congregation. This segment is significant because it sheds light on a lesser-known chapter in the Syro Malabar Church's history. For centuries, the Syro Malabar Church was on the receiving end from the Persian Church. In the 1960s, the Patriarch came out with an idea of inviting priests from the Syro Malabar Church to teach the Aramaic language in their Seminaries in Iraq. It was indeed an honor. It showed that Kerala's priests became masters of a language and liturgy that came to Kerala from the Middle East. The Patriarch in Iraq knew about the CMI fathers' contributions in the area of scholarship on the Aramaic language. The Patriarch contacted the Prior General of the CMI Congregation, who selected Fr. Marcel, Fr. Virgil, and Fr. Fabian. One of them returned to India The Patriarch knew about the Aramaic publications of Emmanuel Thelly (1925-2015), and welcomed Fr. Thelly to teach the seminarians. But the story had an unhappy ending. We hear the story from Fr. Emmanuel Thelly. It seems the younger bishops and priests did not appreciate an Indian priest coming to teach their mother tongue. From other sources, we learn that the young Seminarians also made fun of Fr. Emmanuel's pronunciation of certain Syriac syllables because it sounded different from theirs. A deacon from Alaqosh had to correct the ill-informed seminarians that Fr. Thelly's pronunciation was correct and they were wrong in belittling Fr. Thelly (see Aramaic Project-16 52:26). The young seminarians and the young generation of priests could not accept that an Indian knew the nuances of their mother tongue better than what they knew. One can only imagine the pain of Fr. Thelly. In any case, the damage was done; Fr. Thelly felt the negative vibe and decided to return to India. Thus, the mission lasted only for about two and a half years (1964-1967). Soon after, the other priests also returned. We do not know their stories. We are glad Fr. Thelly shared his part of the story. The younger priests and seminarians in the CMI Congregation may not know this part of the history but for this video. Some could see this as the story of a failed mission. But it is, in fact, the story of the Syro Malabar Church's achievement that it produced erudite scholars of the Syriac language who could even write grammar books. May this video instill in the viewers' great admiration for Fr. Emmanuel Thelly and a greater appreciation of the Syriac heritage of the Syro Malabar Church.

1. Aramaic Project-16 (52:26).
2. Aramaic Project-16A.

Dr. Joseph J. Palackal, CMI
New York
27 October 2020

Related Videos

  • AP 1 - Interview with Fr. Emmanuel Thelly C.M.I., Syriac scholar and lexicographer.
  • AP 1a - Fr. Emmanuel Thelly C.M.I. recites the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic
  • AP 1b - Fr. Emmanuel Thelly C.M.I. sings the acrostic hymn of St. Ephrem the Syrian.
  • AP 16a – Koonammakkal Thoma Kathanar becomes emotional while speaking about the contributions of Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI (1925-2015) and the failure from the part of the Syro Malabar Church to "recognize the face of a scholar."
  • AP 218 - Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI, A Servant of the Syro Malabar Church.
  • AP 237 - Chant for Incensing in Syriac by Fr. Emmanuel Thelly, CMI. ധൂപാർപ്പണ ഗീതം

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