The most defining attribute of HH Mathews II Catholicose was his smile. People who met him, even if they forget his name will not forget his never fading smile. He was one of the most Charismatic leaders in Indian Christianity. But it was his prayer life, uncompromising ascetic, penance and fasting that raised a young boy from a small village known as Perinadu in Kollam District, to the high ecclesiastical office in the Church.
Mathews, who was called as Kochunnunni, was born as the eldest son of Puthusserazhikath Puthenveedu Idiculla and Annamma on January 30th, 1915, in Perinadu, Kollam. He completed his secular education in local schools. Most of his school friends were Hindus. This interaction with people from other religion developed in young Mathews an open minded attitude and broadmindedness that came handy to him later on his life. He was inspired by the spiritual discourses of Ala Achen of Marthoma Church and Sadhu Kochu Kunju Upadeshi. He was inspired by then Catholicose Baselius Geevarghese II, whom he placed as his role model. He wished to serve the Church as a priest. But his father was against this idea. He prayed incessantly for God’s will to happen.
Seeing his faith and interest in prayers, his parishioner requested his father, to get him ordained, so that they will get a local priest. But his father refused. Later, his father, who was a businessman, suffered some losses in his business. He felt that it was due to him not allowing Mathews to get ordained. So he agreed to the wishes of Mathews and the parishioners. He was ordained as Deacon by Catholicose Geevarghese II. Mathews started his theological education in Old Seminary, but unfortunately Old Seminary was closed owing to litigations. At that time Mathews heard about Puthenkavil Mar Philexinos Thirumeni’s plan to start training deacons at Basil Dayara, Pathanamthitta. He heard that more theological training was being given there. He enquired with Puthenkavil Thirumeni about him possibly joining Basil Dayara for studies, to which Thirumeni agreed. He learned under Puthenkavil Thirumeni, Daniel Clery (Daniel Mar Philexinos) and Thengumtharayil Geevarghese Cor Episcopa. Later he joined Bishops College, Kolkatta for his BD after which he pursued higher education in Theology from General Theological Seminary, New York. He was ordained as Priest in 1941.
Just around after his ordination, the St George Dayara at Othara was just started and Catholicose Geevarghese II was looking out for an unmarried priest to put in charge of the Dayara, and Fr Mathews was given the charge. It was his monastic life in Dayara with which Fr Mathews made a mark in the Church. He led a disciplined monastic life. Poverty was the hallmark of Othara Dayara. Many of the days there was nothing to eat. The food that was served was either Bajara or Jackfruit grown in the Dayara compound itself. Because of extreme poverty many inmates of the Dayara left for their homes. But Fr Mathews was hesitant in informing about the poverty in the Dayara to Puthenkavil Mar Philexinos, who was in charge of the Dayara or any other Church authorities. Once famed lay leaders, K C Mammen Mappilai and Adv E J John came to the Dayara at noon. Embarrassed to serve them Kanji, Fr Mathews asked the cook to dry out the water and serve them rice. But both the lay leaders could make out that the rice served to them was made from Kanji. Adv E J John, before leaving the Dayara, promised sufficient rice from his paddy fields thereafter. Fr Mathews was joined in the Dayara by Pappan, who came to Dayara as a cook, who later would turn out to be his driver for a long time. The prayer life of Fr Mathews made the Dayara a centre of spiritual excellence.
Wishing to use the knowledge Fr Mathews acquired from his Theological education outside, Catholicose Geevarghese II appointed him as a teacher in Old Seminary (at that time functioning at MD Seminary). He still remained manager of the Dayara. In spite of his responsibilities with Seminary teaching and the Dayara, Fr Mathews travelled across Malankara leading retreats and inspiring many. Because of his handsome appearance and pleasant demeanor, he was called as “Angel Achen”
Catholicose Baselius Geevarghese II wished to use the services of Fr Mathews on a larger scale for the Church. His Holiness took special interest in Fr Mathews being ordained as Metropolitan. On May 15, 1953 Fr Mathews, was ordained as Episcopa with the Episcopal name Mathews Mar Coorilose. At the age of 38, he was the youngest bishop at that time. He was appointed as the assistant Metropolitan of Kollam Diocese. After Diocesan Metropolitan Alexios Mar Theodosius passed away he was given full charge of the Diocese. This was the first time that Kollam was getting a full time Metropolitan. Earlier Metropolitans were Pulikottil Joseph Mar Dionysius V who also served as Malankara Metropolitan and Alexios Mar Theodosius who was also in charge of Outside Kerala Diocese and Bethany Ashram. Mathews Mar Coorilose Metropolitan visited all parishes in the diocese. He started many educational institutions and ashrams in the diocese. He has established more schools, colleges, convents and ashram than any other Metropolitan. When he took over the charge of Kollam, it was one of the poorest dioceses in Malankara, but when he left charge he left it as one of the strongest dioceses in the Church.
He was elected as Catholicose Designate on May 1, 1980, in the Malankara Association held in MD Seminary, Kottayam. When Catholicose Baselius Marthoma Mathews I relinquished the post, Mathews Mar Coorilose Metropolitan was elevated as Catholicose Baselius Marthoma Mathews II on April 29, 1991 in Parumala Seminary. During his tenure as Catholicose and Malankara Metropolitan he conducted Holy Moroon Consecration in 26 March, 1999 at Devalokam. He ordained a total of eleven Metropolitans. He has mentored many priests, some of who went on to become Metropolitans, which include Mathews Mar Epiphanios, Zachariah Mar Anthonios and Yakoob Mar Elias. During his tenure the dioceses of Sulthan Battery, Mavelikkara and UK-Europe-Africa came into existence. He canonized Vattasseril Mar Dionysius. He also consecrated the renovated Parumala, Puthupally and Chandanapally Churches among many.
It was during his tenure that the Supreme Court of India delivered its famous verdict in Church litigations in 1995. Even though several attempts were made for unity, it didn’t come to fruition. But still Metropolitans Abraham Mar Severius, Thomas Mar Athanasius, Yuhanon Mar Meletius and Zachariah Mar Nicholovos who were with Jacobite faction, accepted the Catholicate, leading to partial unity in the dioceses of Kandanad, Angamaly and Thrissur. The Malankara Association held in Parumala Seminary in 2002 with Justice Malimath as the special overseer appointed by the Supreme Court, upheld his status as Malankara Metropolitan.
Catholicose Mathews II was a well known figure in the ecumenical circles in Kerala. He also was keen on maintaining the religious harmony in the country especially in the state of Kerala. It was his timely intervention that prevented communal disharmony in Nilackal. He held close friendship with various religious and political leaders. He was in forefront of many social issues, especially the Kallada irrigation project. He travelled widely in India and abroad, either for attending International meetings and conferences or for meeting his folk. He abdicated from his position due to advanced old age in November 30, 2005. He entered eternal rest on January 26th 2006 and his mortal remains are entered on the left side of the Mar Elia Chapel, in Mt Horeb Ashram, Sashthamcotta.
Most of the people reading this piece would have some great moments of interaction with Mathews II Bava. He was very humble and down to earth and made it a point to interact with the faithful whenever he got opportunity. He was a shepherd who came searching for his flock however far they were. It is this love for his people that made him one of the most travelled bishops. He came to see his people where ever there were across the world, even in his old age. Every person who has interacted with him, partaken in Holy Eucharist he celebrated, heard him speak, seen his smile would never forgot those moments ever in their life. The entire Malankara Church still feels his presence even though he has left us for heavenly abode almost seven years back.
May his intercession be refuge for us.