Witness of Father KJ: An Embrace of and a Call to Martyrdom
Josekutty Joseph Puthuparambil, Thiruvananthapuram
While the rest of the world slept in peace on Easter night a messenger of peace, Rev. Dr KJ Thomas, rector at St Peter’s Pontifical Institute, Bengaluru (Karnataka) was brutally bludgeoned to death by unknown persons in the early hours of 1 April 2013. The battered body was found at a table of the seminary at dawn. The man known for his warm smile, had his face smashed beyond recognition. Although the police suggest the motive for the attack was theft on the ground that some documents were missing from the office of Fr Thomas, the motive is not clear especially because of the fact that his computer, iPad and other assets were not stolen.
A humble and good-hearted man, Rev. Dr Thomas Joseph Kochupurayil endearingly called as Fr KJ by his students and colleagues and affectionately called as Thommachan by his relatives and friends hailed from Pazhayempally family at Ettumanoor, in Kottayam District, Kerala. Born on 13 May 1951 he was ordained priest on 14 May 1980 for Ootacamund (Ooty) Diocese in Tamil Nadu. Having secured MA in History from Mysore university, MA in Political Science from Madras University and MED from Madura Kamaraj University he served the Ootty Diocese as Assistant Parish Priest and Principal of the prestigious Rex Higher Secondary School till he was appointed as a staff member of St Peter’s Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Bengaluru in 1988. He proceeded to Rome in 1990 where he completed his doctorate in Systematic Theology in 1993. KJ joined back St Peter’s Seminary and continued to serve as Faculty Member.
During his devoted tenure in the Pontifical Institute, he had served as Professor of Theology, Head of the Department of Systematic Theology, Procurator of the Institute for 2 terms and President of the Faculty. During these years he was more of a friend and guide than a teacher to his students. While serving as the President of the Institute he was appointed as the Rector in 2009 and reappointed in 2012 for the second consecutive term, which he continued till his martyrdom on 1 April 2013.
Being an erudite scholar, a great philosopher and a theologian, Fr KJ possessed rare qualities of heart and head. He was a pious priest, polite, soft spoken, good-natured, calm, composed, dedicated, hardworking, committed to his service and humane with a great sense of humour. Simplicity, humility, honesty, innocence, nobility, austerity and obedience to the elders were the hallmark of his personality.
At 7.30 a.m. on 2 April 2013 the Archdiocese of Bangalore with a large number of diocesan clergy, religious priests, nuns and laity led by HG Most Rev. Dr Bernard Moras, Archbishop of Bangalore, HE Rt Rev. Amal Raj, Prelate of Ooty Diocese, HE Rt Rev. Dr Thomas Antony Vazhappilly, Bishop of Mysore, HE Rt Rev. Lawrence Pais, Bp of Dharmapuri Diocese and HE Rt Rev. Dr S Singaroyan, Bp of Salem offered a solemn requiem holy mass for the repose of the soul of Fr K J.
Dr Bernard Moras, read out condolence messages of His Beatitude Major Archbishop Mar George Cardinal Alencherry, Head of Syro-Malabar Church, HB Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis Catholicos, Head of Syro-Malankara Church, His Eminence Oswald Cardinal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, President of CBCI and CCBI, HE Telesphore Cardinal Placidus Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi and HG Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, Apostolic Nuncio to India.
In his eulogy, HG Moras said, “Fr KJ, the hallmark of your [his] personality will make an indelible mark in the annals of St Peter’s Pontifical Seminary and Institute. You [he] had an indomitable spirit for hard work, study, prayer and service. We will miss you [him] but ever love you [him]. May your [his] soul rest in peace.” With a heavy heart, deep shock and profound sorrow they bid adieu to him.
On the way to Ooty his mortal remains were kept at Mysore Cathedral for enabling his friends, students and faithful to pay their last respects. Above 500 people gathered and conducted a prayer service led by HE Dr Thomas Antony Vazhappilly, his teacher, colleague and bosom friend, in the afternoon of 2nd April.
The diocese of Ooty, to which he belongs, flocked with clergy, religious, laity and people of all walks of life paid their homage at St. Mary’s Church premises at 10.00 a.m. on the following day by a requiem Holy Eucharistic Celebration for the departed soul of Fr K J. The con-celebrated mass was presided by HE Arulappan Amalraj, Bp of Ooty concelebrated by HE Dr S Singaroyan, Bp of Salem, HE Bishop Lephonse Thomas Aquinas of Coimbatore, Msgr A Anthony Swamy, VG of Ooty, Fr Rayappa, President of St. Peter’s Seminary, Bengaluru.
In his appeal to all concerned, Bishop Arulappan Amalraj stated, “Though motive behind the murder is yet to be ascertained, we demand a thorough investigation. The killing of Fr Thomas is not a murder for gain but a premeditated vendetta, when all the seminarians, staff vacated for summer holidays, this cowardly act is done”. He continued, “we trust the police personnel of the State of Karnataka will look into all angles of the murder and establish the truth, whereby justice will be done to the departed soul”.
The mortal remains of Fr KJ were moved to his ancestral home and parish on 4th April. HB Mar George Card. Alencherry, HB Moran Mor Baselios Card. Cleemis, HE Mar Kuriakose Kunnacherry, Bp Emeritus of Kottayam, HG Mar Joseph Perumthottam, Metropolitan Archbishop of Changanacherry, HG Thomas Mar Kurilos, Metropolitan Archbishop of Thiruvalla, HE Sebastian Thekethecheril, Bishop of Vijayapuram and HE Mar Jacob Murickan, Auxiliary Bishop of Palai were some of the Episcopal dignitaries who paid their last respects to the departed soul at his parental home.
Sri Oomman Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala, Sri Ramesh Chennithala, MP and President of the State Pradesh Congress Committee, Finance minister Sri. KM Mani, Sri Jose K Mani, MP and Sri Suresh Kurup, MLA were some of the political dignitaries who paid homage.
Hundreds of faithful – bishops, priests, religious and people of various walks of life paid their last respects at his ancestral home. His final rites were begun at his home at 2.00 p.m. on 5 Apr 2013. HG Mar Mathew Moolakkatt O.S.B., Metropolitan Archbishop of Kottayam was the chief celebrant along with HE Dr Thomas Antony Vazhappilly, HE Rt. Rev. Dr James Thoppil, Bp of Kohima and HE Mar Jose Pandarasseril, Auxiliary Bp of Kottayam.
In his emotional sermon during the funeral service at home HE Dr Vazhappilly, his bosom friend and teacher, was in tears and staggering for words when he recollected the time since KJ joined as a seminarian under him, who later turned out to be his colleague and thick friend. He narrated that Fr KJ was a friend to all, enemy to none; a guide and philosopher to all those who sought his counselling, a compassionate priest with affable manners, sincerity, exuberance and dedication. Dr Vazhappilly added that KJ reached out to everyone impartially especially the sick and the needy and affirmed that he was a saintly man.
The final service at church was led by HG Mar Mathew Moolakkatt, HE Dr James Thoppil and HE Dr Jacob Mar Barnabas, Bp of Delhi in addition to HE Mar Jose Pandarasseril. Mar Jose Pandarasseril remembered in the homily that Fr K J was a well accepted and recognised priest in the seminary and in the diocese. This soft spoken and loving rector was a father to the seminarians and a brother to the colleagues. He stood for the betterment of the seminary and finally had to shed his blood for the values he dearly adhered to. He bravely bore witness to Christ by shedding his blood as a disciple of Christ is called to be. While demanding that the miscreants are brought to book, he made a call to all those who loved Fr KJ to pray, as expected from a Christian, for the conversion of all those who had been behind this cruel act.
The mortal remains of Fr KJ were laid to rest in the designated tomb at the chapel of St Joseph Knanaya Church, Ettumanoor at 5.45 pm on Friday, 5 April 2013, where thousands including prelates, clergy, religious, nuns and people from various walks of life paid their tributes to the departed soul.
According to Cardinal Gracias, CBCI president, Fr KJ’s martyrdom is a tribute to the priesthood, who are called to give their life to the people, devote themselves, if necessary, to the point of death. Even in death, Fr KJ is a powerful witness, who proclaimed the death and the resurrection of our Lord.
Let us be assured that the great martyrdom of Fr KJ shall not go in vain but shall bear fruit in the form of a canonised saint of the Church participating in the eternal banquet in heaven, who will intercede for us hapless pilgrims in the sojourn and shine as a role model for us to look upon.
(Sources: Vatican Radio, Vatican Insider, AsiaNews, The Hindu English Daily, Deepika Malayalam Daily, Malayala Manorama Malayalam Daily, www.daijiworld.com, www.mangalorean.com, www.theglobaldispatch.com, www.indcatholicnews.com, www.deccanchronicle.com, www.christiansincrisis.net, www.ucanindia.in, www.tkayala.com, mumbailaity.wordpress.com, Family members of Fr KJ and Sr Licia SMI, Mumbai)