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Homage to Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel

By Fr. George Maliekal
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Shillong, Jul. 23. The mortal remains of Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel was laid to rest at the Laitumkhrah Catholic Cemetery on 23 July after a prayerful funeral Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, Shillong. The funeral Mass was presided over by Rt. Rev. Gregory Karotemprel, younger brother of Fr. Sebastian. Hundreds of priests, religious, Sisters and Brothers came from near and far to be present for the requiem Mass. Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong conducted the funeral rites at the cemetery. Fr. George Maliekal, the provincial of Silchar province, paid rich homage to Fr. Karotemprel. The text of his homage is given below.
Your Lordship Rt. Rev. Gregory, Sr. Maria Provincial SABS, Fr. Sebastian, Rector Vianney Home, Chabua, dear family members of Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel, dear Archbishops, Bishops, Salesian Confreres, priests and religious, brothers and sisters and dear faithful.

We have entrusted to God's loving hands, our dear Fr. Sebastian Karotemprel, an extraordinary person in many respects. God blest him with several gifts, which he placed at the service of the society, the Church and the Salesian congregation.

Born in 1931 in a deeply religious family and eager to serve in the Lord's vineyard, he made his profession in 1952 at Kottagiri, Tamilnadu. He was one of the first Indian Salesians. He did his theological studies at Sacred Heart College, Mawlai and ordained priest in 1962 at Chennai. He served for a short time at Poonamali and then at Matunga in Mumbai. He soon joined the challenging mission field of Northeast India. He served as the Rector of St. Joseph's seminary, Dibrugarh, Rector of Christ King College, Shillong and Vice-provincial of then Province of Guwahati.  

After his higher studies in Rome, in 1976 Fr. Sebastian reached Sacred Heart Theological College (SHTC), Mawlai. Its remarkable growth during these past nearly four decades is in good measure due to the hard work and tenacity of this man of vision. With his legendary dynamism and immense resourcefulness and with the collaboration of others, he was able to put SHTC on the theological map of the Church.  

He was known for his hard work, pinning himself to his desk for hours on end. The excellence he demanded from himself, he demanded from others too. He published over twenty books and scores of articles. Intellectual work is by no means less tiring than manual work. But he carried on indefatigably. Neither age nor a worrying health condition slowed him down. Don Bosco wanted his sons to be untiring workers, like he himself was. The numerous students of Fr. Sebastian, including myself, have been impressed and inspired by his tireless work, determination and dedication to duty.

Thanks to his resourcefulness, Sacred Heart College can now boast of a number of significant achievements. It was affiliated in 1981 to the Pontifical Salesian University, Rome, enabling the students to obtain the B.Th and M.Th degrees. He saw to the establishment of the college library with a large number of books and periodicals. In 1977 he established the Vendrame Missiological Institute to promote missiological studies through research, symposia and seminars. It was again he who pioneered the Vendrame Institute Publications and the Indian Missiological Review, now called Mission Today. This missionary periodical from Shillong, with a readership across the country and in several other parts of the world, has been in uninterrupted publication for the past thirty-five years.

Another of his initiatives was the Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures, popularly called Don Bosco Museum, situated in Mawlai. Large numbers of people visit this centre. Among the very eminent persons to have visited the Don Bosco Museum recently were President Pranab Mukherjee, President Abdul Kalam and Madam Sonia Gandhi.   Its three component parts, Museum, Study/Research and Publications are closely linked with the rich concept of culture and the process of theologizing. Cultures are God's instruments to translate the treasures of the Good News into people's lives. The rich cultural heritage of North-east India offers a remarkable opportunity as well as a theological challenge.  

The growth of an institution is not the result of chance developments. Circumstances may help, just as they may hinder. Opportunities may be available. If not, they can be created. In the final analysis, apart from God's grace, it is the vision, determination and hard work of competent and suitable persons that matter. Fr. Sebastian was one such person. We praise God for him and take inspiration from his spirit of hard work, tenacity of purpose, dedication to duty and immense resourcefulness.

Moreover, he served the Church in various other capacities. He has been a member of the International Theological Commission; secretary of the FABC Office of Evangelisation; member of the executive committee of the International Association for Mission Studies; president of the International Association of Catholic Missiologists; consulter to the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples; professor at Pontifical Urban University, Rome; senior mission scholar - Overseas Ministries Study Centre, USA; member, Joint Working Group between World Council of Churches and the Catholic Church; and member, CBCI Doctrinal Committee. As member of the International Theological Commission, he worked closely with its president, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. He was also involved in the preparation of the Synod of Bishops on the Church in Asia as well as in the great jubilee of the year 2000. It all goes to show the extraordinary profile of the person we were privileged to have as a long-serving teacher and formator.

We praise God for him and take inspiration from his spirit of hard work, tenacity of purpose, dedication to duty and immense resourcefulness.

At this emotional good bye to the earthly pilgrimage of Fr. Sebastian, let me express my thanks to Bishop Gregory Karotemprel for presiding over this Holy Mass. We extend to you dear Bishop Gregory and all the members of Karotemprel family our deepest condolences at the departure of your loved member of the family from our midst.

The Salesian Province of Silchar expresses its immense gratitude to all the Archbishops and Bishops, Superiors General of various congregations, provincials and major superiors present, all the concelebrants at this Mass. For brevity let me refrain from mentioning them by name. They are much known to us and dear to us.

May I express my thanks to all those who spoke before me expressing their love and admiration for Fr. Sebastian and conveying their condolences. Thanks a million to numerous past students, collaborators and friends of Fr. Sebastian who conveyed their sentiments through words and messages. Let me mention a couple of them.

Rev. Fr. Francesco Cereda, the Vicar of the Rector Major of the Salesians expressed great recognition, esteem for Fr. Sebastian. He wrote: ''His contribution for the formation of Salesians and clergy and for theological thinking is highly appreciated. Fr. Sebastian was a dynamic, active and profoundly involved person.''

His Eminence George Cardinal Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church conveys his condolences to Bishop Gregory and to all the Karotemprel family members and to the Salesians. He wrote: ''His sterling services to the church as missionary, a teacher and a supporter of great programs for the uplift of the people of Northeast India will always be remembered with grateful feelings''.

Dr. David Syiemlieh, a long term friend of Fr. Sebastian and now serving as member of the Union Public Service Commission, India, wrote: ''We are all the poorer in his passing away. However we are happy in the sense that we came in touch with such a fine priest, teacher, scholar, and visionary, for he has left an imprint in the lives of countless people during his life that was so well lived''.

Fr. Joe Edakkudan, companion of Fr. Sebastian during his theological studies, appreciated on behalf of all his companions: ''We used to call him Lacorder, the great speaker. Some called him Summa Theologica. He brought cheer to the community''.

My sincerest thanks goes to numerous others who conveyed their messages of condolence and promised assurance of prayers. My gratitude goes to the parish priest of the Cathedral, Fr. Crescence Khongwir, for graciously accepting to hold this service here and for making the needed arrangements.

Let me express my profound thanks and appreciation to Fr. Jose Vettath, Rector and the community of Sacred Heart Theological College, Mawlai who cared tenderly, with great love and sacrifice, for Fr. Sebastian especially in the last few months of his critical health condition. Heartfelt thanks to the brothers, unfortunately they are away in various communities of the provinces for summer ministry and to Bahlung (driver and personal assistant), whose concern and sacrifice for Fr. Sebastian was beyond words.

We thank the many doctors and nurses of NEIGHRIMS, of Nazareth Hospital and finally that of Woodland Hospital from where Fr. Sebastian left us for eternity. I express my thanks to Sr. Isabella Suja, the FMA Provincial of Shillong, the sisters of Auxilium Nongthymmai and the sisters of Nazareth Hospital who generously helped in preparing the body for burial. The generous assistance rendered by Don Bosco Tech School in making all the arrangements at the cemetery is much appreciated. Thanks to the newspapers and other media that conveyed the news of the passing away of Fr. Sebastian.

My thanks to the choir, the Choral Evangelists of Mawlai under the direction of Fr. Barnes, to all those who arranged the prayerful liturgy of today and of the previous days at Sacred Heart College. I am grateful to Fr. Sebastian, nephew of Fr. Karotemprel and Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil who presided over Mass at Sacred Heart College.

In the name of all the Salesian confreres, dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, I thank you for your presence, prayers, support and sympathy expressed today and in the past days. Your presence here speaks of your love for Fr. Sebastian. May your prayers obtain for him eternal rest.

Thank you, God bless you all.  

Fr. George Maliekal SDB (Salesian Provincial - Silchar)    
Cathedral Church-Shillong
23rd July 2014
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