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Scotland and India united in grief

Catholics in Scotland and India are united in grief over the death of much-loved priest Fr Martin Xavier Vazhachira, whose body was found on an East Lothian Beach last Friday after he’d been missing for three days. By Ian Dunn and Amanda Connelly

The alarm was raised on Tuesday after Fr Martin Xavier failed to show up to celebrate Mass with the parish community of St John the Baptist, Corstorphine, where he was the administrator.

The body of the 33-year-old Syro-Malabar priest from Kerala in India was found on the beach at West Barns, near Dunbar (above) on June 23. The cause of death is as yet unknown.

“The news of Fr Martin Xavier’s death comes as a great shock and a great sadness to all those who knew him and loved him,” Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh said. “Our thoughts and, more importantly, our prayers are with him and with all his loved ones in both Scotland and India. May he rest in peace.”

Fr Vazhachira (right) was ordained a priest of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate in 2013. He arrived in Scotland in July 2016 for post-graduate studies at Edinburgh University. He served in local Catholic parishes, initially in Falkirk, before being appointed to Corstorphine in October 2016.

The close knit Syro-Malabar community in Scotland has been hit especially hard by the loss.

“It’s a big shock for them, because first of all he’s a priest belonging to that community and also the same area,” Fr Sebastian Thuruthippillil, parish priest of St Joseph’s Church in Whitburn and a chaplain to Scotland’s Syro-Malabar community, told the SCO. “It’s [also] big news there in India; people are really shocked.”

Fr Vazhachira celebrated his final Mass for the Syro-Malabar community on Sunday June 18, two days before he went missing. Fr Thuruthippillil noted it was a big loss for both the Scottish and Indian Catholic communities, and he said he was close to Fr Vazhachira.

“Four Indian priests are working in the diocese, and we used to work together and support each other,” he said.

Fr Thuruthippillil described Fr Vazhachira as both ‘very active’ as a priest and a ‘very happy’ individual.

“He was well liked not only by the Syro-Malabar people, but the Corstorphine people,” he said.

The Syro-Malabar community celebrated a memorial Mass in the priest’s memory on Sunday afternoon, at which 200-300 people were in attendance from both the Syro-Malabar and Scottish communities.

“We said the Office of the Dead for him and people lit candles before his photo,” Fr Thuruthippillil said.

Bishop Joseph Srampickal, the British Syro-Malabar bishop, is expected to visit the community in Edinburgh shortly and urged all to remember Fr Vazhachira. “Pray for the repose of his soul, and kindly ask our people to do the same during the family prayers,’ he said. “May our Lord and our God Jesus Christ through the intercession of Virgin Mary give his father and family members, relatives and friends the strength to withstand this tragic moment.”

Luckson Kallumakikal, a friend of Fr Martin’s from India, and a senior member of the Syro-Malabar community in Britain, has been representing his Carmelite order in dealing with the police.

“He was such a young and talented priest,” he said. “People are truly shocked. Police Scotland has been very good. We accept he is dead but now we want to know what has happened and we hope the police investigation will reveal it.”


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