For more than 150 years, seven generations of P.H. Hormis Tharakan’s Parayil family have gone to the St. Raphael’s Church, established in 1859 by his forefathers, at Ezhupunna near here to attend mass, to see cousins get married and children get baptized.

However, unless the authorities concerned get their act together, Mr. Tharakan and the two generations younger to him might be the last of the Parayil family to worship in this quaint little church of his ancestors. The church is now facing the danger of slow but steady destruction, with regular maintenance and repairs not being done.

Mr. Tharakan has been in the forefront to save the church. However, in spite of the State Archaeology Department’s timely intervention to declare the church a heritage structure; an ongoing legal battle by the St. Raphael’s Church Laymen’s Association; and several letters to the Vatican directly; efforts to preserve it through timely maintenance and repair works have been in shortage.

The church has been lying shut for the last 15 months, after two of its ceiling planks “mysteriously” came down and after a private engineering consultant decided that the church was too unsafe a building for gatherings. But broken roof tiles have not been replaced and no other maintenance or repair has been undertaken. The interiors are not even being swept, Mr. Tharakan said.

Local residents now witness the strange spectacle of the church lying shut and mass being conducted in a makeshift tent erected right next to it. Since the church is a heritage structure, no constructions are allowed within a certain radius, and no other buildings that could block the view of the church can be erected around it, he said.

The Church Laymen’s Association, in its letter to the President Pontifical Commission, Vatican, has expressed doubts that there are vested interests working to demolish the old church and erect a new one instead. The letter also points out that despite the church being declared “unsafe”, “the Vicar and Assistant Vicar still live in the same building”.

The Association is now trying to get the church re-opened and repaired, so that the beautiful structure is not disastrously lost.

They have once again written to Vatican, from where an earlier communiqué advised conservation of the church.

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