CHELAD, KOTHAMAGALAM, KERALA
Speech by Very Reverend Father Dr. Kunnathu P. Geevarghese Cor Episcopa on April 17, 2012, on the occasion of the foundation stone laying ceremony of St. Gregorios Memorial Cancer Hospital and Institute at Chelad Kerala, India.
Let us all pray.
Oh Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art in all places and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of life: Come and dwell in us and cleanse us from every stain and save our souls, O gracious Lord.
Your Beatitude - our Bava, Your Graces, Honorable minister of our state, Honorable members of the legislative assembly, Honorable members of the Panchayath, Members of the Clergy, Other specially invited guests, Members of my family, friends, neighbors, and My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
This indeed is an auspicious occasion most of us. We, Christians, have just celebrated the Feast of all Feasts, the holy Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The festival of Vishu was just celebrated a couple of days ago and the Muslim festival of Nabidhinam was celebrated about eight weeks ago, I believe. Today we are celebrating an occasion which I personally was awaiting for the past many years since I embarked on this quest for this cancer care hospital. I have rehearsed this speech a million times after I prayed for the fulfillment of this dream of mine, but sadly I have to say that I have forgotten what I had decided then. Therefore, I shall speak from the bottom of my heart.
Most of you know me as a doctor from America and some of you know me as Geevarghese Achan. Both are true in the abstract. My clothes are Syrian, my hat is Syrian, the shoes I am wearing are European, I speak in Manglish, but in my heart I am a Malayalee. Our Bava (HB), who thinks about everything, has suggested that I speak in English rather than make a mess of my own mother tongue. Thank you, Your Beatitude.
I am the product of everlasting and sacrificial life of my parents, the late Annamma and Philipose. Of course, our family name is Kunnathu. I never figured out which one of the two of my parents loved me more, but not my beloved and lovely, but ever critical wife, Chinnu, sitting by my side, claims she does love me more than anyone else.
I was brought up as a farmer to follow my father’s footsteps, but divine providence led me to become a medical doctor. In this connection my cousin, the late Dr. Kalarikal Kuriakose influenced me to go to medical college. I wish he were here, but he indeed is in a better place now, far from all of the troubles and tribulations of this world. Further, I worked very hard indeed and finally was ordained as a priest in the Jacobite Church at the age many would consider retirement as an option. Thanks be to God. This I did to fulfill a personal commitment I had made before God to change my worldly ways and to serve God in a way he would find acceptable.
When I asked my father about this decision of mine he told me, and I quote, “Do it only if you can carry the cross without failure and be sure about it.” I trust you and God be the judges here. But I can tell you one thing for sure, that going through medical school, going through more than one course in postgraduate education and getting more than one board certification or postgraduate qualification in specialty medicine and practicing many years as a physician in more than one specialty was nothing compared to getting myself educated, trained and living the life of a Priest in our Church.
My profession, therefore, is a two-fold ministry, both in the science and art of healing and it is something which I enjoy very much indeed. Through the practice of the art of healing, I believe I accomplish the great Christian mission of making man’s love of God equal to His love of man, and when one understands that God created man in His own image and likeness, one should be able to love God at least as much as he loves man.
Without beating around the bush or blowing my own trumpet, I shall now tell you the long story about how an ordinary Joe like me ended up dreaming and daring to plan and build a world class, second to none in the world, type of cancer care hospital and medical college.
The story has never been told, not even to my own dear wife, for the simple reason that nobody would believe it. But the truth has to be told at least once and here it is. I had a sister, my Chechi, in whose lap I spent the first few months of my life as a first grader at the nearby school here in Pindimana. I was her dearest brother and she was my Chechi, whom I loved probably more than my mother. She unfortunately is not here to listen to her brother today. Her husband, Cherathotathil Paulose and their children are here. My Chechi passed away in the prime of her life when life was just getting better for her. She died of acute myeloid leukemia and that type of blood cancer had no real suitable treatment for her then. We could not do much for her then except to take her to the best hospital and pray for her and care for her; but she is in a safe place now. I am very sure she is watching us.
Mr. Cherathotathil Paulose, Husband of achen's 'chechi'
Would you believe, yesterday another 44-year-old came to consult with me about her disease, the same which took my sister’s life. I did advise her and I also promised her that I will pray for her. Won’t you join me in this prayer to help this other person whom you might not know?
Ever since this event of my sister passing away, I started having a very unusual and difficult experience in my life. Whenever I pray, especially when I pray for the departed among us which is often in our altar of worship, and especially when I read the names of those departed, I see the live image of my sister in front of me looking at her brother, as if she is asking me something, the same thing every day, day after day, time after time. Sometimes this interaction becomes so intense that, as a priest, I have even tried to avoid celebrating the memorial service if I have another priest available to do it for me.
Over the years I interpreted my sister’s appearance in front of me as if she was requesting me and asking me “my little brother, won’t you do something that others not to have this same fate as I have had? I have accepted mine since it was ruled in for me.” I have been praying to God daily so that he will direct me in some way to find an answer to this pressing problem which has become very personal to me and, of course, the problem of cancer becoming another growing worldwide health issue waiting for a solution in the short and long term. With things going this way and mind in turbulence and my nights becoming days due to insomnia, one night suddenly I woke up in a cold sweat, as if from a nightmare shouting to myself something like this, “You know the answer to your quest. You know it. Start a hospital to care for cancer,” or something like that. All of these years my being a silly weak man who thought I had failed myself, though praying to God, asking him to grant me special powers to heal the sick and the ones who were incurable, this thought never occurred to me that I could do something like that in my dream or was it indeed a nightmare? It is this quest of mine that led me to this effort of building a hospital for treatment and research in cancer.
I got to the stage where I could start building the foundation after getting permits, etc., after preparing the land, I was pondering the next step when the economic tsunami which hit North American and Europe slowed me down and my dear wife, who was doubting whether she would end up being in the soup line in one of the soup kitchens. But then God Almighty works his miracles in many, many ways. I asked some of my friends and one of my family members who told me that he would partner with me if I change my mind from the idea of a sole cancer care center to a medical college. That required some further thought and I had to keep my sister still in my mind.
At this juncture one night past midnight the telephone rang and as soon as I woke up from my sleep , to my surprise, I knew it was the Bava (HB) on the other end of the line, asking me whether I would pray and think about helping the Church in its quest to start a medical college. Bava (HB) gave me the message and told me to think about it and told me that he would call again. I could not, at that moment, think and after getting up and pacing the floor for a while and praying for a while I thought that I still had to think about my sister and I was focused on cancer care, but then I continued to mull the matter in my mind and pray about it. I knew Bava (HB) would call and I needed to make up my mind.
My thoughts went this way. I had my world set in the line of the cancer care and to help many and satisfy the preoccupation I had about myself and my own sister. The hierarch of our Church, on the other hand, asked me to help in its efforts to help many more. My ministry is one of healing and I have some limited resources I had set apart for that. I thought my efforts to begin with had already begun. It is costly and noble and I need all the help I can get. Bava’s efforts regarding the medical school are bigger, greater and equally noble and needing even more help than my own. So, why not join the two noble causes together? The resulting project would be better and bigger and would cover many, many souls. It looked like the samgamam (joining or unity) of the Ganga and the Yamuna or the confluence between the Euphrates and the Tigris. All would be well and, with God’s help, nothing would be impossible. My mind was set, my prayers were answered and I was ready to give the answer to Bava (HB) in the positive.
It would be incomplete if I deliberately forget to tell you that the parties who wanted to join me deserted me when I told them that I am going to change my mind about the project and to do the medical school project with Bava instead of the cancer center alone. I didn’t think it was worth asking them why.
I sent a message to Bava (HB) on August 8, 2011, about my decision and subsequently I met with him in person on Monday, October 17, 2011, at 7 p.m. in his study. I had a seven page memorandum detailing my vision on the project with the title “Project, medical education/proposal for a school of the future”. We talked for nearly two hours. Bava (HB) scanned through the memo, listened intensely without blinking an eye in response to my monotonous presentation in Manglish regarding my vision, my hope, my anxieties and my unshakable faith in the Divine help and in our ability to accomplish things, even Herculean tasks, with God’s help. I was amazed at Bava’s inexhaustible ability to listen and grasp the material I presented to him. In the end I got the nod that I did not do such a bad job. I thought the tough business of healthcare, its delivery and the education aspects of the healthcare, etc., impressed Bava (HB) and he was more than ready to take the challenge, as if he had wanted another challenge. We had three more meetings that week and we agreed, in principle, that we go ahead with the medical college project as a joint venture between the Geevarghese family and the umbrella of the Church under the leadership of Bava (HB).
The initial step would be to start the cancer hospital since it was already shovel ready and the land had been prepared for the foundation to be dug. It is also my understanding from Bava that I and my family will play a continuing role in the project, not only as founders and benefactors, but also in the management in a responsible and equitable way. I am making this statement because that seems to be the only question which I am being asked. It is a project of the Church and the patron shall be the Bava as it should be. My wife and I hope to play a significant and decisive role in its implementation in the future. We have no profit motivation in this matter whatsoever. We do not plan to make any money for our personal needs in this matter. If managed well, this institution has the potential to be second to none in this world. It is my dream, the Bava’s dream and with your help and the help of every one of you and all those who listen and see, our dreams can be fulfilled and the hope of many and the expectations of all for the future for our land and its people would be bright.
With the ever present and always prayed for inspiration of all holy and life-giving spirit of God and the unlimited energies and abilities of our Bava and the effort and cooperation of our metropolitans and all of you, this project should fulfill a large part of our dreams and the dreams of this land where I was born 75 some years ago. I am sure Bava (HB) and the rest of us will be able to assemble a team soon to advice and to contribute to the next step in the building process of this project and this team will be up to the task and fulfill our dreams.
With all humility and love of God and man I can muster, and with unlimited advance apologies, brothers and sisters, family and friends, leaders and elders, please allow me to make the following statement in this matter: “Please do not think what is in it for me? But think how can I be of some help in this noble cause?”
I shall close with a bird’s eye view of the scope of this project. The project does include all things from A to Z in a medical college or a medical school and then some more; newer and novel ideas suitable for our land. It will include a state of the art or world class, second to none, cancer care hospital and institute, for diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation and research in the management of cancer. We shall not forget Cancer Prevention here. It will include a medical college or medical school with basic graduate degree and postgraduate degrees and doctorate degrees in specialty courses and super specialty levels. It will include a school of nursing with bachelor’s, graduate and postgraduate degrees. It will also include allied health courses in pharmacy, respiratory therapy, radiation technology, radiology technology, laboratory technology, hospital and health sanitation, diet and food management, medical equipment technology, home health and personal health assistance programs. It will include a medical school building and administrative building. It will include housing (dorms). It would include a department of human resources and services and, of course, it will include all specialties in medical school including public health, Pediatrics and Maternal and fetal Medicine.
It would be superfluous if I bore you to death with all the other details which I presented to Bava (HB) in my detailed memorandum. Finally, in the most optimistic tone, the project, as envisaged, is huge in its magnitude. Its potential and scope are next to infinite and it is doable. We have the leadership of our beloved Bava. We expect the cooperation, contribution of the people in this area and in this land and beyond our borders, irrespective of caste, creed, religious persuasion or other personal attributes. I promise my best efforts and the remaining part of my life toward this project and whatever financial resources I can contribute.
Before I conclude this long talk, I would be delinquent if I did not thank the people who enabled me to be here. I thank His Beatitude for giving me the privilege to speak here and speak in the language which I have some proficiency in speaking. I remember my mother and my father fondly, the late Dr. Kalarikal Kuriakose and his wife, the late Mrs. Dr. Lily Kuriakose, my cousins, the late Dr. K.N. Pai, M.D., my mentor in medicine and the late Jessie Cavener, M.D. who once upon a time, as my teacher in anesthesiology, thought that I would be worth something in the future. My gratitude to my Professor and personal friend Dr. George P. Varkey MD, FRCP, past chairman of the department of anesthesia, CMC Vellore and my friend and Professor, Dr. Matthew Varghese MS, FRCS and his wife Mary cannot be expressed in simple words only. In addition, please allow me to remember the late Richard Gilbert, chairman of the department of anesthesia at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, who helped me in very many ways in my postgraduate training in the Montreal Neurological Institute. Others I want to remember from my high school days - my teachers Panakal Paulose, Puthukayil Simon, Maliyil Kuriakose and Sukumara Pillai and a number of my teachers - are fondly remembered.
Let me thank members of my family who have been praying for me, especially my
wife Chinnu who is with me today and all those who made the special effort to be
Let me also thank all of the special invited guests and let me not forget K.G.S. and Associates who are represented by Vasanth Kumar and Sunil Kumar and others here.
Let me also especially mention members of my family like Dr. Regi Varghese who came all the way with me from the USA for this function and my other nephew, Dr. Bennett. (I ask them to stand to be recognized.) We also have in the audience today Drs Jacob and Shila Mathew from Cleveland, Ohio who are both very active in St. Basil’s Jacobite Church there. Jacob is also the founder of Malankara World. Of course, there are so many other doctors and medical professionals in my family whom I wish to congratulate for being here with me. It would be such a prolonged affair if I mention and call each one of them by name, even though I should have done that. Last, but not least, I have to thank the following members of the clergy in the Church where I work in North America. Those include V. Rev. Dr. Alexander Atty, one of my mentors and who is currently the Dean at St. Tikhon’s Theological Seminary, Father Dr. M. K. Thomas of Chicago, His Beatitude Dr. Philip Saliba, Primate of the Self-ruled Antiochian Archdiocese of North America, His Grace Vladyka Mark Maymon and Archpriest Alexis Kouri, Protos, St. Michael The Archangel Orthodox Church, Louisville Kentucky.
Three of our Metropolitans are here to bless us also with their presence. I thank them on my personal behalf also. His Grace Metropolitan Abraham Mor Severios have been very kind to me and my family. Thank You, Your Grace.
Thank you for listening. May God bless us all.
More Photos of the Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony
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