My dear Brother Bishops and brothers and sisters, we are here to witness this historical and national event, when the Shrine of St. Thomas the Apostle at St. Thomas Mount is proclaimed as a National Shrine. I congratulate Bishop Needhi Nathan, the Bishop of Chengleput, the Shrine Committee, the priests, religious and all the people present here for this great gift to the diocese and to the nation. I bring to you greetings and apostolic blessings of His Holiness pope Benedict XVI. My best wishes and prayers are always with you.
Every Catholic Shrine is a sacred place which has a history of divine intervention and the spontaneous devotional response of the people who flock there as pilgrims. But even more special, here in this twin mountains 'Parangi Malai' Foreigner's Mount and 'Chinna Malai' Little Mount, St. Thomas has lived and carried on his evangelizing mission and established churches in India.
The holy Gospel today identifies St. Thomas as one of the twelve apostles of Jesus known as the 'twin'. During the Last Supper discourse Jesus announced his departure and why he should be going. He asked the apostles, "And you know the way where I am going." (Jn 14 :4) and to that question Thomas replied, "Lord we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way? And Jesus said to him: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." (Jn 14 : 5-6) This is one of the few texts in the Bible which has so much significance for our spiritual life and for theology. Another often quoted text from the Bible is about the most remembered event in the life of St. Thomas. When the resurrected Lord appeared before the apostles, he called Thomas and told him to "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." And to that Thomas responded, "My Lord and My God!" (Jn 20: 27-28). Aside from being known as the "twin", St. Thomas is also known as "the doubter".
But his questions and doubts were all for our advantage. Pope Benedict XVI cites the example of the Apostle Thomas and recommends that during the times of doubt and uncertainty, all believers should have the courage to tell God that they don't understand him and they need his help. "In this way, with such frankness, which is the authentic way to pray, to converse with Jesus, we express the littleness of our capacity to understand, but at the same time we assume the attitude of trust of one who expects light and strength from the one able to give them," (Benedict XVI, Catechesis on Apostle St. Thomas, 27 September 2007).
On seeing the resurrected Christ, St. Thomas declares, "My Lord and my God". Pope Benedict XVI says that "Thomas reacts with the most splendid profession of faith of the New Testament." (Benedict XVI, Catechesis on Apostle St. Thomas, 27 September 2007). The same exclamation we say in every mass. It is a constant acknowledgement of Jesus as God and a reminder to every one who doubts in Jesus that he is indeed God and Lord. It is an inspiration for many who looked up to St. Thomas to strengthen their own faith.
Strengthened by this affirmation, Thomas like the other apostles set out to preach the good news of Christ and founded churches. He traveled to 'India' to preach the message of Christ. Having traveled to different places in South India and having established different churches. St. Thomas came to the Madras region and settled at the cave in Parangi Malai, next to Little Mount. From that time onwards these two hillocks have been associated with St. Thomas the Apostle.
This shrine is significant to the whole as a chosen place of one of Christ's Apostles, but it is especially important to India because St. Thomas was her first missionary. This is where he carried out his ministry, here in these mountains and at the end where he was martyred. Now the place where he is believed to have been martyred for the faith has become a shrine, a national shrine, a dwelling place of God to draw us to him and to receive his blessings. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us of the most encouraging and hope filled message, that wherever God dwells "there shall be showers of blessings" (Ezek 34: 26). To have these blessings we ought to experience the closeness with God and allow God to direct the blessings upon us. In the book of Leviticus we read that the Lord will command the blessings to reach us, particularly when to go to meet Him 'in a shrine' where God dwells. "I will command my blessings upon you" (Lev 25: 21).
We often wonder why so many people flock to the shrines and holy places of devotion. Every one longs to meet and experience God and receive his blessings. God assures us of blessings but only if we follow the commandments, the guidelines and the directives of God. In the book of Deuteronomy it is told that "All these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God." (Deut 28: 2). Moreover, these blessings will be all in vain if we do not learn how to share them with the most in need. As God will be gracious upon us, let us also learn to be gracious to others.
In conclusion, let us thank God for the gift of St. Thomas the Apostle to India and to the Church. Let us pray to God that we may continue to receive abundant blessings through this national Shrine of St. Thomas. God bless you. Amen.