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Catholic and Orthodox Churches have agreed to share priestly services and infrastructure in a major development in their often troubled 356-year-old history.As a first step, they have agreed to share churches for Sunday Mass outside Kerala. Recent meetings between the two also explored the possibility of sharing cemeteries and the services of priests at funerals.The Church leaders have asked their theologians to prepare guidelines to implement this agreement.The Inter-religious Dialogue Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council met with the Syrian Jacobite and Syrian Orthodox Churches in mid-December to seek ways to foster greater unity and cooperation.The bishops' council represents all three Catholic Church rites in Kerala -- the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites.Father Philip Nelpuraparambil, a Catholic theologian who attended the meetings, described the outcome as "very positive. Now we have to put it into practice."Bishop Brian Farrel, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, led the Catholic delegation. Bishop Joseph Mar Gregorios led the Syrian Jacobite Church while Baselios Mar Thomas I led the Syrian Orthodox Church team.Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, says unity among the Churches is the need of the hour and local Churches should have more autonomy."There has to be more decentralization in the Church. What divides us is the question of power," he said.Kerala Catholics' link with the Orthodox Churches is stronger than their relations with Protestants, Father Thelakat said. He said he was praying for these Churches' union. "We alone can make that unity," he said.The Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites trace their roots to Saint Thomas the Apostle, as do the Syrian Jacobite and Syrian Orthodox Churches.The latter two Churches arose from a split in the Orthodox Church here last century.Father Adai Jacob, a Jacobite leader, told UCA News Dec. 17 that the development "is a milestone in the history" of St. Thomas Christians of Kerala who all have common roots.Catholics and Orthodox groups in Kerala were "miles apart" after 1653, when Portuguese Catholic missioners tried to Latinize local Christians here, he said. Confrontation had often marred inter-Church relations.
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