DIASPORA SUNDAY – Its Meaning and Purpose (Abraham Mattackal, Los Angeles)
Abraham Mattackal, Los Angeles
For the first time in our existence as a Diaspora community, most of our parishes and congregations in our North American Diocese celebrated Diaspora Sunday on the last Sunday in November every year from the year 2000 on, to coincide with the Thank
sgiving Day celebrations which is the second most important celebration in the United States after Christmas. What is this celebration about?
The word Diaspora ( although spelled as ‘Diaspora’ is pronounced as ‘Diaspara’ ) is a Greek word to designate the dispersal of the Jews at the time of the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 576 B.C. and their forced exile to Babylonia. The Diaspora became a permanent feature of Jewish life. By A.D.70 Jewish communities existed in Babylonia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Greece and Rome. The term Diaspora has been applied to other peoples with large numbers living outside their traditional homelands. We are a perfect example We left our homeland of Kerala and settled down in different parts of the world. Like us, there are numerous other Indian Diaspora communities existing in different parts of the world..
What do these two celebrations – Diaspora Sunday and Thanksgiving – have in common ? The early English settlers, pilgrims as they are often called, had to undergo enormous difficulties. The harsh voyage in the Merchant Ship called ‘ Mayflower’ and the fierce winter of New England were taking their tolls .Nearly half of the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth, Massachu setts in December of 1620 died within the first few months. Yet they did not lose hope or their steadfast faith in God. With the onset of Spring, they planted Indian corn and sweet potatoes and in summer the Pilgrims had a rich harvest. The native Indians in the area turned out to be friendly and helpful. The settlement was going to survive. And in the fall, in a spirit of victory over awesome odds and a feeling of home sickness for the land they grew up and left behind , they held a harvest festival. It is their triumph and thankfulness to God, that we celebrate every year on the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day all across the United States.
Just as the pilgrims had to undergo great hardships and unbearable difficulties, the early Malayalee settlers in the United States, Canada, South Africa, European countries, British Malaya etc.,also had to undergo many trials and tribulations. Every father or mother who settled down in the 1960’s and early 1970’s in a foreign land has a story to tell his son or daughter , a story though poignant and gut-wrenching at times, that has something to cherish and reflect upon generation after generation. Mothers had to spend many a sleepless day while working night shifts. and taking care of their babies in the day. My wife Rachel Abraham, while returning home after night shift from a hospital, slept on the wheel and her car went out of the street and hit the living room .windows of a house in the neighborhood. The flowering plants on the window side helped the car to a stop. Those who came as students, had to do menial jobs to sustain a meager living. There were instances when a husband and wife had to cut a 29 cent hamburger into two at lunch time because they could not afford the cost of two hamburgers for lunch .Some of them had to walk in sandals through snow covered streets in winter time because they could not afford snow boots. I remember Rev, Oommen Koruthu,( late Rt . Rev. Dr. Zacharias Mar Theophilos ) while studying at Princeton University came to my house in Teaneck, New Jersey for a prayer meeting , walking through 17 inches of accumulated snow -covered streets wearing sandals, because he could not afford a snow boot with $26.00 stipend per month. Little children had to endure taunting and ridicule from their class mates because they did not have brand name sneakers or school bags. Late Mr. Poikayil George ( son of late Mundakayam John Upadesi )while traveling from New York to Atlanta, wanted to go to rest room for passing urine. He got up from his seat when the air hostess asked him to sit down as the plane was going to land in 20 minutes. As the plane landed at the Atlanta airport, he got down and hurried to the nearest rest room with unbuttoned pants when he was suddenly choked at his neck by a Police Officer telling him “ Don’t you know that this is meant for Whites only ? “ My only son Robby of 16 years was killed in front of his High School by a Fire Dept. employee who was driving at 49 miles per hour speed, in a 25 miles per hour speed zone. In those days killing an Indian boy was not even like killing a dog on the street now.. I could not even get his license cancelled and he continued to drive from the next day on. In 2017, according to a Los Angeles Times Report, a speeding driver hit a boy walking through the street and the boy died soon afterwards. The driver was sentenced to spend 20 years in prison and through a civil suit the father of the boy was awarded 22 million dollars. Another report was about killing a dog on the street, The driver was sentenced to spend three months in prison,
The Sabha Council of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church at its meeting in July 2023, unanimously adopted a Resolution to keep Diaspora Sunday on its Church Calendar and Most Rev. Dr. Theodosius Metropolitan issued a Kalpana on August 29, 2023 to celebrate Diaspora Sunday in Mar Thoma Parishes and Congregations all across the world on the 4th Sunday in November every year. All of us in the Diaspora communities are thankful to God our Almighty for making this happen after years of combined efforts. Our first and second generation members of the Diaspora communities will be gone from this world in the next 20 to 25 years. Our present day 4th generation newborns while growing up in many countries of the world will not even know what their ancestry is about and who their forefathers/mothers were. But when they celebrate Diaspora Sunday every year, they will certainly remember about their own family background and thank God for keeping them safe during the difficult times of their settlements just as the present day Americans remember about the early English Settlers when they celebrate Thanksgiving Day every year on the last Thursday in November.
Abrahan Mattackal is the first Chief Editor and Publisher of the Mar Thoma Messenger in its present form 1993 ti 1995 and again as Chief Editor from 1999 to 2000. He is the Co-editor of the book “In the Beginning” published in 2006 and also the Editor and publisher of the book “A Journey By Faith” published in 1998 in connection with the 60th Birthday of our late MosRev.Dr.Zacharias Mar Theophilus
Abraham Mattackal, Los Angeles