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Apostle of India's Untouchables
By Vinayak Jadav, S.J.


Pastor and Emancipator
Triply Blessed
Raised Spiritual, Social Conditions
Blessed Agostino Thevarparampil

A tree is recognized by its fruits. Likewise, a mature ecclesial community is identified by its faith, often manifested in the number of saints and martyrs it produces. The Syro-Malabar community in Kerala, India’s southernmost state, has this distinct “honor of the altar.” Agostino Thevarparampil, popularly known as Kunjachan (“little priest”), is the fourth person to be beatified from this Church that dates to the second century.

Peanuts comic-strip creator Charles Schulz’s simple philosophy was that it is not people with credentials who make a difference in our lives, but people who care. Among those whose caring lives far outweigh their credentials, we confidently place Blessed Kunjachan (pronounced Koon-ja-chun).


Pastor and Emancipator

Neither orator nor organizer, neither writer nor scholar, Kunjachan was less than five feet tall but had a giant soul. His sanctity integrated spiritual care of people with social concern. He was a pastor and an emancipator. In the caste-ridden Indian society, the Dalits (“downtrodden”) are the low-caste untouchables, traditionally assigned menial works of sanitation. Doomed to a demeaning status by birth, they are treated as slaves of the elite and deprived of development opportunities. Kunjachan dedicated 40 years of his life to uplifting these underprivileged.

After four years of service as assistant parish priest, Kunjachan returned to his home parish for health reasons. Soon he had baptized 200 Dalits. Keenly aware of their plight, he visited the Dalits daily, often in their places of work. Soon his personal approach had encouraged more than 5,000 Dalits to convert to the Church. Kunjachan faced opposition from the non-Christian high caste and traditional Christians, but his cordial disposition led people of all castes and religions to visit him.

April 1, 1891
Born in Ramapuram, Kerala, India

December 17, 1921
Ordained as diocesan priest

October 16, 1973
Dies—and his tomb draws pilgrims

Miracle through Kunjachan’s intercession

April 30, 2006
Beatified by Cardinal Mar Varkey Vithayathil, leader of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

Kunjachan’s missionary zeal sprang from his deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. The charismatic priest continued Christ’s mission of setting the captives free. He wrote, “I do not possess anything either as landed property or as cash account. After my death, my funeral must be conducted in the simplest way. Ever since 1926, I had been staying with the Harijan [Dalit] Christians. Even after death, I would like to be with them. Therefore my dead body should be buried where the Harijan Christians are buried.”

Kunjachan’s life particularly inspires pastors, social activists and missiologists. Although he did not claim to achieve anything for the poor, we know that he proclaimed good news by his radical acceptance of the rejected.

Kunjachan is blessed in three ways. First, his many virtues bear testimony to the Beatitudes. Second, since blessed and happy are biblical synonyms, he is enjoying the invitation of the final judgment: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom” for “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (see Matthew 25). Third, Blessed Agostino Thevarparampil is now a model for Catholics the world over to follow in faith and felicity.

Next: Ceferino Giménez Malla


“He made tireless efforts to bring back those who had fallen away from the faith and those who had been unfaithful in marital fidelity. Kunjachan’s aim was not merely the spiritual uplift of the Dalit brethren. His aim was also their social, cultural, intellectual and artistic progress, for which he worked very hard. He won over the opposition with his calm and pleasing nature. He did not lose heart when the government at the time denied privileges to the Dalits who became Christians.”

—Cardinal Vithayathil’s homily from the Mass of beatification


Vinayak Jadav, S.J., who teaches at St. Xavier University in Ahmadabad, India, was a summer intern at St. Anthony Messenger in 2006..

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