KOCHI: As the daylong standoff between the Orthodox and Jacobite factions threatened to spiral out of control at St Mary’s Syrian Cathedral, also known as Piravom Valiyapally, some 35km from here, the district collector on Wednesday evening imposed entry restrictions on 67 people, including 10 priests, of the Jacobite faction under CrPC Section 144. They have been barred from entering the church and its premises for two months.
The move came after nearly 400 members of the Jacobite faction tried to block the Orthodox faction, comprising around 200 people, including priests, from entering the church in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2017 allowing the Orthodox faction to take control of the disputed church.
The Jacobites, comprising several elderly women, had been camping on the church premises since Tuesday evening and had locked the gates to prevent the Orthodox priests and members from entering. The Jacobites were led by Catholicos Baselios Thomas I. Some other metropolitans, including Niranam diocese Metropolitan Geevarghese Mar Coorilos, are in the church.
Nearly 500 cops were deployed in the church to prevent any law and order issue. At the time of going to the press, members of both factions and the cops were camping in the area.The Orthodox faction’s move to enter the church came following the High Court’s order last week directing the police to provide the members protection to enter the church.
In its 2017 order, the apex court had ruled that 1,100 parishes and their churches under the Malankara Church should be controlled by the Orthodox faction, as per the 1934 Malankara Church constitution. However, the order could not be fully enforced owing to stiff resistance from Jacobites.
“We are not trying to forcibly enter the church. It is the responsibility of the police to implement the SC verdict and we are hopeful it will be done. We are not planning to leave,” said Fr Elias Cherukadu, vicar of the Orthodox faction of Piravom Valiyapally.
It is learnt the Muvattupuzha RDO has told the Jacobite faction to leave from the church, allowing the government to implement the SC order. In December last year, the Piravom church witnessed similar protests. Chaos ensued when believers, including women, climbed atop the church and threatened to jump if the police gave its control to the Orthodox faction.
Protesters of the Jacobite faction said they could not give away their church to mere 200 believers of the Orthodox faction. “Over 3,000 families are members of the church and we do not have any other church here unlike the Orthodox faction. Where will we go after leaving the church?” asked an elderly woman belonging to the Jacobite faction.
Geevarghese Mar Coorilos told reporters the Orthodox faction could offer Holy Mass at the church under police protection if they wanted. “However, we cannot leave our church,” he said. Additional SP (Ernakulam rural) M J Sojan said the situation was tense and the police were on standby. “We will step in if the situation goes out of hand,” he said.