Archbishop Mar Joseph Powathil
Born August 14, 1930 (1930-08-14) (age 87)
Kottayam, India

Archbishop of Syro-Malabar Catholic Church .

Chairman, Interchurch Council.

Mar Joseph Powathil (b. August 14, 1930, Kurumbanadom, Kerala, India) is a Roman Catholic archbishop representing the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He is the archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Changanassery. It is widely believed that he is quite influential in the Syro Malabar Catholic Church.

Archbishop Joseph is known for his in-depth knowledge of the ancient patrimony of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and his strenuous efforts for its reformation in accordance with directives of Vatican II. He was in the forefront towards the end of 20th century in the continuing struggles (which began in the late 18th century and gathered momentum in the early 20th century) for the restoration of Syro-Malabar Church’s full legitimate rights and its complete identity as an individual Church. He is also well known in the ecumenical movement and the Church's fellowship with followers of other religions.

Early life

Archbishop Joseph Powathil was born in Kurumbanadom, a quiet and tiny village in Kerala. He was dearly known as Pappachan in his childhood, and he officially goes by the name of P. J. Joseph. He went to school at Holy Family LP School and St. Peter’s UP School, which were both in his home village, and the St. Berchmans’ High School in Changanassery. An economics graduate of St.Berchmans College, Changanassery and Loyola College, Madras, he went on to receive his doctorate in economics from Oxford University in 1969.

Priestly Ministry

Joseph did his seminary studies in St. Thomas Seminary Changanassery and Papal Seminary Pune. He was ordained priest on October 3, 1962. Just after his ordination Joseph Powathil was appointed lecturer in economics at St. Berchmans’ College, the same college where he had his graduation studies. Though his later years were full of Episcopal responsibilities it is an irony that Father Joseph had very little pastoral experience as a priest. The authorities thought the other way, to utilize his leadership qualities and organizing abilities, besides his experience as a teacher and mentor, in the making of a prelate.

A Profile of Ministry in 'Truth and Charity'

He was appointed auxiliary bishop of Changanassery (Titular Bishop of Caesarea Philippi) on January 29, 1972 and was ordained bishop by Pope Paul VI on February 13, 1972. On February 26, 1977 a new diocese was created under the name Kanjirappally bifurcating Changanassery archdiocese. Bishop Powathil was transferred to there as the first bishop. He served the new diocese for nine years. He rose to become archbishop and returned to Changanassery on November 16, 1985 succeeding Mar Antony Padiyara.

As the archbishop of Changanassery Mar Powathil pushed assiduously for the restoration of East Syrian traditions in the Syro-Malabar Church. He fought vigorously for the complete revival of the Divine Liturgy that was Latinised after the Synod of Diamper, although it was partially revived after Vatican II. However, these efforts got him several critics even among his fellow bishops, alleging that what he espoused amounted to adoption of chaldean christian and orthodox christian practices. This was apparent during his race as a candidate in the election of president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in 1994.

Though most of the Latin Catholic bishops from all over India supported his candidature, he had to overcome a very strong opposition from a group within his own church. Despite this severe setback, he went on to win the election. As the president of C.B.C.I. Mar Powathil voice became heard throughout India and his work began to win accolades and respect even from other religious leaders. In 1996, as a poetic justice, he was unanimously asked to further serve the C.B.C.I. for another term. Archbishop Powathil was also chairman of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (K.C.B.C.) from 1993 to 1996.

Offices He held / holds

He served as President of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) (1994-1998), Chairman of Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (1993-1996), and Chairman of Education Commission of the CBCI. He is at present a member of the Post Asian Synodal Council in Rome, Italy (since 1998), Chairman of KCBC Commission for Education (since 1986), Founder and Chairman of Inter Church Council for Education, Chairman of Inter Religious Fellowship, member of the Pro Oriente Foundation at Vienna, Austria (since 1993) and member of the Scientific Commission of International Publication ‘Oasis’ from Venice, Italy.

A Noted Educationist

His leadership as an educationist starts in early 1970’s when he was the auxiliary bishop of Changanassery. It was then the youth wing of a certain political party came out against the private colleges in Kerala. Following the footsteps of his predecessor, Bishop James Kalacherry, who challenged the unjust educational policies of the famous Sir C.P. Rama Swamy Iyyer, he was at the leadership to defend the educational rights of the minority communities and led the agitation for freedom. In Changanassery, he personally led a large manifestation against the government through the streets. His vision of education is rather liberal and liberating. He joined hands with the other Christian Churches to defend the constitutional rights of the minority communities, which was evident from the events that followed the enactment of the Kerala Self-financing Professional Colleges Act 2006.

St. John the Baptist Training College at Nedumkunnam, St. Thomas College of Nursing at Chethipuzha, St. Thomas College of Allied Health Sciences at Chethipuzha and St. Joseph’s College of Communication at Kurisummoodu are founded by him in the Archdiocese of Changanassery during the last decade.

Other Contributions

His special care and concern for the margininalised, especially for the mentally challenged children is manifested in nineteen special schools for the mentally challenged in the Archdiocese itself and four schools for the physically handicapped. The first school for the mentally challenged in the central travancore region was opened by his initiative in 1972 (Asha Bhavan) at Ithithanam near Changanassery. Now it is the largest residential school with hundred students and twenty-five teaching and non-teaching staff. Besides he is the inspiration behind 16 mental health care centres and four houses for the terminally ill in the Archdiocese.

Social Development was one of his major concerns. He founded the famous and prestigious Peerumedu Development Society (P.D.S) and the Malanadu Development Society (M. D. S) in 1977 while he was the bishop of Kanjirappaly. The Kuttanadu Vikasana Samithy (KVS) is another brainchild of Archbishop Powathil for the integral development of the place and people of Kuttanadu. Besides, as the Patron of the Changanassery Social Service Society (CHASS) he is the inspiration of numerous developmental schemes. During the last seven years itself the society has built 2000 new houses - with the support of the local people - for those who don’t have proper shelter. Many Scholarship schemes are established for the Dalit Christians in the Archdiocese and the poor and eligible students of the professional courses.

In 1990, Archbishop Powathil founded the prestigious I. C. Chacko award for cultural and literary excellence and it was awarded to Prof. P. C. Devasia, the author of Kristu Bhagavathom in Sanskrit language. Centre for Indian Christian Archaeological Research (CICAR) promoting research is another unique initiative of the Archbishop. Rev. Dr. Joseph Vazhuthanappally is the head of this centre promoting scientific research. Promoting reading habit among the people Archbishop Powathil established the Department of Book Apostolate and they organize the Changanassery Pusthaka Mela in the month of October every year. This Mela is considered as the cultural fest of Changanassery attracting many thousands of people every day. Besides he started family library scheme, school library scheme, Pusthaka Mela in every school etc.

Realizing the importance of the Youth Apostolate he took the initiative in establishing a Diocesan Youth Movement called ‘Yuva Deepthi’ in 1972. In course of time it spread to all the dioceses in Kerala leading to the formation of Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM) and he was the first chairman of the KCBC Youth Commission. He started Apostolate for the senior citizens, apostolate for the emigrants and apostolate for the tourists in the Archdiocese. CANA, the Indian Section of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, at Thuruthy with head quarters in Rome is another achievement of him.

The Syro Malabar Church in which he was born and brought up was always close to his heart. He was always a devoted son of this Church and therefore always on the forefront in the struggles for the restoration of its legitimate rights and its identity as an individual Church. He did a great deal to promote formation based on this identity, to priests, religious and the laity. Oriental Study Forum, Dukrana - periodical, Christian Orient - periodical, Missionary Orientation Centre (MOC, recognized by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome), Amala Theological College for the novices, Mar Thoma Vidya Nikethan for Laity (Master Degree in Religious Sciences: recognized by the Congregation for Catholic Education, Rome) etc. are the means used for the same. He also founded an Eastern Monastic Congregation – Sisters of St. Thomas

On January 22 2007, Monday, the resignation of Archbishop Joseph Powathil, in conformity with Canon 210 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, was made public by the Holy See (Vatican City) as His Excellency reached the canonical age of resignation of 75 (He is 76 by 2007). This was with the consent of Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Cardinal Vithayathil and the Bishops' Synod of the Syro Malabar Church.

On the same day, it was announced that the then Auxiliary Bishop of Changanacherry, Mar Joseph Perumthottam would succeed Mar Joseph Powathil in the office as the Archbishop of Changanacherry.


Archbishop Powathil is known for his rigorous stands in the case of both liturgy and traditions of the church. He has taken a strong stand for the protection of minority rights of Christians in the Kerala state. He is known to be of his sincerity towards Antiochene traditions and Antiochene liturgy. He was of the idea that the Syro Malabar catholic church as basically a syriac church must be faithful towards Antiochene Syriac traditions and in turn towards the Patriarch of Antioch. As a result he faced a lot of opposition from those who are interested in adopting Latin practices. Later he slightly changed his stand and said that it is better to form an independent orthodox church for all the Christians in India. Again later he changed his stand and said that Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is one of the great persons the world has ever seen and we may remain just as it is.

When the Communist government in Kerala passed the self financing college Act in 2006, he rigorously criticized the bill immediately after its pass in the assembly. He said that the bill is the most harshest weapon against the Christians in the history of Kerala state after independence. As a result, the Communist party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan abused him publicly. Because of Mar Powathil's efforts, the bill did not come into effect. He said that since Christians in Kerala form only 19% of the total population, it is essential that their institutions must be protected from the anti minority practices of the governments which are controlled by the majority community.

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Preceded by
None (New Diocese)
Bishop of Kanjirappally
Succeeded by
Mathew Vattakuzhy
Preceded by
Antony Padiyara
Archbishop of Changanassery
Succeeded by
Joseph Perumthottam