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Obituary: Rev. Fr. Paul Puthanangady, SDB (1934-2013)

By Jude Joseph Pooppana, SDB
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Kolkata, Nov. 14. With the passing away of Fr. Paul Puthanangady SDB this morning, 14 November, a great luminary has gone away from our midst. However the rays of light he shed during his life time will continue to illumine many for a long time to come. Fr. Puthanangady, aged 79, succumbed to cancer from which he had been suffering for quite many years, at Don Bosco Aluva, Kerala. His health condition had taken a sudden dip in the past couple of weeks, and he was administered the anointing of the sick in the presence of a large number of his confreres and many of his relations, at the studentate of Philosophy in Aluva. He passed away in the Golden jubilee year of his priestly Ordination.

Fr. Puthanangady had selflessly devoted several decades of his life to theology and liturgy as a scholar, a professor, a formator and a leader. It can rightly be said that his contributions to theological reflection in general and liturgical renewal in India in particular is unparalleled. His evident achievements are bound to influence several generations of people.
Fr. Paul Puthanangady was born on April 26, 1934 in the small picturesque village of Puthenpally, Ernakulam in Kerala as the first of seven children of Mathew and Mary. In 1950, after finishing his high school in his home town at St. Mary's English School, Aluva he entered Sacred Heart, the Salesian Aspirantate in Shillong where he completed his Higher Secondary schooling and pre-novitiate  formation.

Having completed his novitiate in Shillong itself, he made his first profession on 16 April 1953. He then studied philosophy at Salesian College, Sonada (WB) from 1953 to 1955. In the subsequent years he did his graduate studies in B.A. History in the same institute affiliated to the University of Calcutta and completed his Practical Training [regency] at the Seminary in Bandel, West Bengal.  He was then sent to Italy for his studies in Theology which he completed in 1967, first in Turin and then in Rome. He was ordained a priest on 9th February 1964 in Turin, by Msgr. Giuseppe Cognata.

He obtained his Doctorate in theology with specialization in Liturgy from the Pontificio Ateneo S. Anselmo, Rome, in 1967. Since his return to India in 1967 he first taught theology at Mount Don Bosco, Kotagiri (TN) and then at Kristu Jyoti College, Bangalore till the end of August this year. During the decades he spent at Kristu Jyoti College, he served also as its Rector for a period of five years from 1993-1999. He also served as the director of Visvadeep, institute of Faith Formation and Youth Ministry, a unit of Kristu Jyoti College.  In 1984 Fr. Paul succeeded Fr. Amalorpavadas as the director of National Biblical, Catechetical, and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC) Bangalore, and remained in office till 1991.

As one of the leading theologians of India, Fr. Paul had been an inspiring member of a number of associations and movements and held various portfolios in them. He was the founder-president of Indian Liturgical Association. As the president of the Indian Theological Association from 1981 to 1984 he proved his mettle as an organizer as well as a theologian. In 1996 he was nominated Executive Secretary of the Asian Liturgical Forum, an Association of Liturgists from all the Asian Countries. Besides being a consultor of Christian Life Commission of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, member of Advisory Council of Concilium, Member of the Editorial board of ''Word and Worship'', ''Indian Theological Studies'' and ''Indian Missiological Review,'' he had been also the Chairman of the Theological Publications in India, for the publication of Guide books in theology. Two out of four of these guide books have been co-authored by Fr. Paul and are now being used as text books in Seminaries in India.    

Of all the responsibilities he shouldered the most impressive ones were his tenure as the Director of NBCLC, and as the secretary of the National Central Committee for the Jubilee Year (Yesu Kristu Jayanti) 2000.  In 2007 he was nominated the Episcopal vicar of the Archdiocese of Bangalore, a portfolio he relinquished a few months ago due to fast deteriorating health conditions.

As the director of NBCLC Fr. Paul proved himself to be a worthy successor to Fr. Amalorpavadass, its founder-director. The animation notes Fr. Paul prepared and circulated for the liturgical celebrations and catechesis for the entire Catholic India for the three years prior to Jubilee Year 2000, seminars and retreats he organized and the final ''Yesu Kristu Jayanti'' 2000 Celebrations organized to conclude the Jubilee year 2000, speak volumes of the tremendous influence Fr. Paul had in the Indian Church. They clearly established his great organizational and administrative skills too.

As a leading theologian, liturgist, formator, retreat preacher and consultor, Fr. Paul was able to accomplish alone a feat few others could equal. This establishes beyond all doubts the depth of his theological research and contribution. The numerous publications by way of books and scholarly articles that Fr. Paul had to his credit confirm this view. In addition ''Bosco Udayam'', a journal that aims at building up communication among the Salesians of Asia, whose founder-editor Fr. Paul was, proves the indefatigable and the undying spirit of hard work and the Midas touch that Fr. Paul was able to give them.

As an Indian Theologian and liturgist Fr. Paul Puthanangady has had the most decisive influence on the inculturation movement. Empowered by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council he initiated a variety of adaptations of Indian culture to worship. Following the footsteps of his mentor Fr. Amalorpavadass, he tried to popularise the experimental Indian Rite Mass. Like Fr. Amalorpavadass Fr. Paul envisioned these adaptations as bridging the gap between Catholic and Indian identities. Such adaptations were designed to embrace Indian culture and nationhood so that Catholicism would no longer be seen as a foreign religion.  In short, all his efforts towards ''inculturation and renewal'' and the ''new way of being the Church'', has had its desired and salutary results.

As an accomplished writer as indicated above Fr. Paul had many publications to his credit that were of strictly theological nature and were known for their creative thinking and innovative presentation. It was not for any other reasons but for this creativity, ingenuity and originality coupled with in-depth knowledge of the subject matter and his faith in the same, that his lectures, talks, homilies and retreat preaching etc. were highly appreciated and he was much sought after.

Another striking characteristic trait of Fr. Puthanangady was his loyalty to the Church and the Salesian Congregation of which he proved himself to be an exemplary member. His sensus ecclesiae and exactness about the rubrics and general instructions to be followed for meaningful liturgical celebrations has made him uniquely distinct among the liturgists of India. Moreover, his exemplary life of piety particularly characterized by the daily celebration of the Eucharist and praying of the Liturgy of the Hours to the extent of being scrupulous, made him a theologian and religious with a difference.

Fr. Paul, as a faithful Son of Don Bosco, has also made great contributions to the Salesian congregation, especially by way of various programmes of animation. The fact that he had actively participated in a number of General Chapters of the Congregation also adds to his uniqueness.

Fr. Paul would not be Fr. Paul, if not for his childlike simplicity, candidness and straightforwardness. The childlike simplicity had so penetrated his entire being that he was able to laugh even at some small and insignificant jokes. This was a characteristic trait of Fr. Paul which was easily noticed by all who came into contact with him. This virtue of childlike simplicity is not often found among the intellectuals. Yet he had proved himself to be a man of uncompromising principles who was capable of speaking out his mind with no fear of repercussions.

The greatest legacy of Fr. Paul is in the area of teaching and its impact on hundreds of men and women. He crisscrossed the length and breadth of India, giving lectures and conducting seminars. His teaching mission extended overseas too, having been a visiting professor of Biblical Pastoral Theology Course organized by Catholic Biblical Federation at Nemi, Italy. His love for the classroom and his mastery of the art of exciting theological students to excel will be forever etched in the hearts and minds of several generations of scholars, pastors, and missionaries. So it would not be an exaggeration to say that Dr. Paul Puthanangady SDB will be remembered as a unique person - a person who had become a symbol of our pride, our self-respect and all that we hope to achieve in life. This is a fact attested to by his numerous students and colleagues as well as by all in  knowledgeable and scholarly circles of which he had been a part.  

On hearing the news of the demise of Fr. Puthanangady, Archbishop Thoms Menamparambil, currently in Rome, reacted thus by email: ''I am deeply grieved to learn of the departure of dear Fr. Paul Puthanangady. My sincerest sympathies to all those who feel this loss greatly: close relatives, Fr. Provincial, other confreres. Fr. Paul was my companion in my days of Philosophy and Practical Training. He was an amazing worker. I learned a lot from him. His service to the Church has been impressive, his theological creativity most inspiring, his love for the Congregation most edifying... May the Lord reward Fr. Paul for his great services to the Church and society.'' That sort of sums up the feelings of many at the passing away of this luminary.

It is not only the Salesian Province of Bangalore that will miss him, but all the Salesians in India, nay the entire Catholic Church as a whole in this sub-continent, all of whom had tremendous esteem, admiration and love for Fr. Paul Puthanangady.

May Fr. Paul's soul rest in Peace, as he joins the Heavenly Choirs in their perennial Liturgy!
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