Father Joby Parakkacharuvil Thomas points to a large stained-glass window in St. Pius X Church in Moberly.
It depicts St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets.
“From the beginning, I’ve been telling the people here that I came to Moberly to ‘prepare a place for someone greater than I,’” said Fr. Parakkacharuvil, pastor of St. Pius X Parish.
He has been summoned to return to his home Archdiocese of Kottayam, India, after having served in this diocese since 2011.
He is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Pius X (MSP), a Diocesan Missionary Society for the Priests that minister to the needs of the church in India and outside.
His ministry here will conclude on Nov. 12.
“We are grateful to Fr. Joby for his years of service in our diocese and to Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt and the people of the Kottayam archdiocese for sending him to us and allowing God to minister to us through him and his priesthood,” said Bishop W. Shawn McKnight.
A farewell reception will be held on Nov. 5 in the Moberly Knights of Columbus Hall, after the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass in St. Pius X Church.
Fr. Parakkacharuvil has served at St. Patrick Parish in Rolla, then at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Columbia, then for seven years as pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in St. Elizabeth and St. Anthony of Padua parish in St. Anthony, and for the past two plus years as pastor in Moberly.
He previously spent time in the diocese as a visiting scholar from the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, with residence at Sacred Heart Parish in Columbia, from 2003 to 2005.
“I’ve been in this diocese longer than any other,” said Fr. Parakkacharuvil. “I have friends who I would say are like family in this diocese. I have people here who treat me as their brother or their son or grandson.”
His accomplishments here include overseeing a full interior renovation of St. Lawrence Church in St. Elizabeth, renovation of St. Anthony of Padua church in St. Anthony, and helping to complete the groundwork and fundraising for a significant renovation of St. Pius X Church in Moberly.
He also started the St. Pius X Church Endowment Fund with a significant amount to take care of the future long-term needs of the Church and her ministries.
Also, the St. Pius X Summer Feast Picnic was introduced to bring all community members together for ‘communion, hospitality and fundraising.’
Finding a fine balance between being an administrator and a pastor has been a challenge.
“I believe I have done the best I could in this matter,” he said.
He visited the sick and the homebound in his area, at least twice a year and more if requested, and paired each with a communion minister for the weekly visit.
“Let the Church go to those who cannot go to the Church,” he said.
From the pulpit and the confessional, he’s made a point of reminding people that they’re God’s children, created in his image and likeness.
“As such, we are to be the reflection of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy in the world,” he stated.
“When you receive the Holy Eucharist, you become the Body of Christ,” he noted. “You also make visible the presence of God within you each day through your words and actions to your fellow beings.
“It’s a constant process being converted and transformed,” he said.
Fr. Parakkacharuvil was ordained to the Priesthood in 2000.
He grew up in southwestern India, in the state of Kerala, a region with a substantially higher Catholic presence than in most of the rest of the country.
“The area is only about 25 percent Christian in Kerala,” he noted. “But all of India is 2.5 percent Christian, so you can see the difference.”
Moreover, “with a population of 1.3 billion-plus people, when you think of 1 percent, that’s still a lot of people,” the priest noted.
His grandfather helped establish the parish that Fr. Parakkacharuvil was raised in.
“When my family immigrated to where we live now, they were active in starting the church and building the church,” the priest noted.
“They kept the statue of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of our first church, and the things for Mass in my grandparents’ house,” he said. “The priest would come to say Mass in a thatched shed half a mile away from the house. My father and his siblings brought the things out there for that.”
Later on, Fr. Parakkacharuvil’s parents were instrumental in building a permanent church for the parish.
His mother has been teaching Sunday catechism for the past 40-some years and has helped two generations of children prepare for First Holy Communion.
While growing up, Fr. Parakkacharuvil went to daily Mass with his grandparents and prayed the Rosary and novenas every evening with them. The church bells ring at 6 p.m. and that’s the time to start the evening prayers. This practice is still observed in most of the homes in Kerala.
He taught sixth-grade catechism when he was in 10th grade.
He said the state of Kerala in India is a wellspring of priestly and religious vocations.
“We have a longtime Christian tradition dating back many centuries there,” he said.
Many of the priests and religious sisters serving throughout India are from Kerala, he noted.
“Even in America, Africa, Oceania and Europe, you see a lot of priests from Kerala,” he said. “And many of the sisters who work in various ministries in the area are from there, too.”
Fr. Parakkacharuvil studied in Rome and was ordained during the Great Jubilee in 2000.
He then ministered in his home diocese for a while, then returned to Rome to study Church and social communications at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
“In the seminary and classrooms in Rome, we had people from all over the world,” he said. “They all looked different — different skin color, cultures, food, their clothes — but at the end of day, we were all more alike than different from one another.”
He served a TV internship in Rome and also worked in New York and at EWTN at Huntsville, Alabama.
He worked in the Vatican Museums during his studies in Rome as a seminarian and assisted as a server at a few masses officiated by the Pope.
He assisted Pope St. John Paul II at Mass in St. Peter’s Square on Pentecost Sunday in 2000 as a deacon at the altar.
He was one of the first two priests to take part in an exchange scholar program with the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
He then worked for his home diocese’s newspaper, in youth ministry for the Catholic school children, on the Vigilance Commission and Media Commission, and in the communication office while ministering in parishes there.
As a member of the Missionary Society of St. Pius X he served for almost two years in the Social Concerns Office of a mission diocese in northern India, in the State of Gujarat, serving more than 100 mission centers.
“It was extremely different from my home diocese,” he noted. “When you leave your home state, everything is different. It’s like traveling to the different countries around Europe.”
The people extended a remarkable welcome to him.
“Life is very simple there,” he noted. “When you go to the villages, it’s just bare-minimum things.”
He noted that there are numerous languages and some 2,000 regional dialects spoken in India.
“Every state is formed based on the language, after independence (in 1947),” he said. “We have 26 to 28 official languages.
“Malayalam was my native tongue,” he said. “We also had to learn some Hindi. That’s one of the languages of India.”
Now hear the word
Fr. Parakkacharuvil learned some basic English in grade school and became fluent while studying in the United States.
He said it took a little time for people in this diocese to get used to how he speaks.
“I tell people, ‘You might not understand everything I say right away. English is not my first language, not my second language, not my third but one of the languages I try to speak,’” he said.
A few weeks after he’d arrive at a new parish, people would always tell him, “You speak better English now.”
He’d reply: “You’re just getting used to my accent now. That makes a difference.”
From his first day back in Missouri, Fr. Parakkacharuvil found his parishioners to be warm and welcoming.
“Every parish in the world is unique,” he noted. “But in my experience, people are remarkably similar anywhere in the world.”
They may differ in skin tone, language, food preferences and manner of dress, but “if you have joy in your life, you celebrate; if you have sorrow, you cry,” he said.
He’s found the parishioners he ministered to in this diocese to be “very welcoming, very sincere, very hardworking, and very supportive of the Church and its ministries.”
He has enjoyed taking part in family celebrations and rituals of the parishioners he has served.
He applied for and was granted U.S. citizenship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He remains an outspoken promoter of Catholic education as he used to run Catholic schools in India even though he attended only public schools in his life.
“It’s a wonderful gift that we give to our people,” he said. “And whether it’s a full-time school or a CCD program, it’s a joint mission of the parish, and everyone in the parish participates in that mission.”
The key element, he insisted, is the practice of faith.
“Our school may have all the state-of-the-art elements and wonderful teachers and great kids,” he said. “But if they’re not practicing their faith, then the ‘Catholic’ part is missing.
“Mind you, it may still be a wonderful school,” he said. “But the mission of the Church is not to run wonderful schools. The mission of the Church is to draw people closer to God.
“We are not here to run schools, but Catholic schools,” he stated. “If the teachers, children and the parents do not attend church and live their faith, that school is a school, not a Catholic school.”
He noted that the foundation for all the commandments and all Church law is “the two parts of one commandment: Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
“That’s the pillar, the cornerstone on which all of it is built,” the priest said. “Any law that doesn’t go with love of God and love of neighbor has no value.”
Stars of the heavens
Like countless men of faith before him, Fr. Parakkacharuvil studies the firmament and sees evidence of God’s unimaginable handiwork.
“The James Webb Space Telescope is picking up all that infrared radiation and trying to find the exact age of the Universe,” he said.
“It ultimately goes back to the ‘Big Bang,’ but we know that something had to come before that,” he said.
“There are around 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, and 30 galaxies in our ‘Local Group’ of galaxies, and two trillion galaxies in the observable universe,” he said. “So, if we say we came to be by some sort of chance, that is an awfully big chance.”
He makes the comparison between the immensity of the universe and the immensity of the mercy of God.
“So far we know only a little about both,” he said.
However, the priest insisted, “God did not send his Son to judge us. God sent his Son to save us! If he allowed his own Son to die for us, his focus is not the judgement, but the saving.”
Fr. Parakkacharuvil now asks for prayers for his future missions.
“I don’t know what exactly I will be doing when I get home, but I’m not worried about it,” he said. “I am convinced that God will continue to help me find what I need to be doing.”