Christians constitute slightly more than 1 per cent of Punjab’s population, with the majority settled in Amritsar, Jalandhar and Ludhiana.
I was born to a poor family in Trichur district in Kerala in 1964. I was the eldest of the six children. My father was the headmaster in a local school and poverty and oppression motivated and turned my attention toward humanitarian issues. Though initially I began to work as a priest and even went to Rome in 2008 in the capacity of international treasurer of the Priest Union of India, I returned as Auxiliary Bishop of Delhi in 2009. I finally took over as the Bishop of Jalandhar diocese in 2013.
When was Jalandhar dioceses erected?
The Jalandhar diocese covers Punjab and four districts of neighboring Himachal Pradesh.
Before the Partition, Jalandhar was under Lahore dioceses and kept lying abandoned for several years after Independence. It was only in 1952 that Rome declared this unit as ‘Jalandhar Prefecture’ and made Alban Swarbick, a British national as its in charge. However, it was only in 1971 that it was promoted to the stature of a diocese with Bishop Symphorian Thomas Keeprath as its first bishop.
Until the partition of India, this part belonged to Lahore diocese, presently in Pakistan. It was looked after by the Capuchin missioners of Belgian province.
Creating the apostolic prefecture of Jalandhar on Jan. 17, 1952, the Holy See entrusted it with the British province of the Capuchins. Msgr. Francis Alban Swarbrick, OFM Cap, was appointed its prefect.
Raising it to be a diocese on Dec. 6, 1971, Capuchin Father Symphorian Keeprath, a missioner from Kerala, was appointed its first bishop. Auxiliary Bishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto of Delhi was appointed its second bishop on Feb. 24, 2007, following the retirement of Bishop Keeprath.
Why did you choose Punjab to be your workplace?
I met Bishop Keeprath in 1979 when he came to my village and got impressed by his knowledge and concern for humanity. He also shared with us the challenges minority communities were facing in the state. I later got an opportunity to work in Punjab for three years and finally decided to shift my base here.
Immediately after ordination, impressed with the work of Bishop Keeprath (of Jalandhar diocese from 1971 to 2007), Mulakkal decided to shift his base to Punjab. He was first appointed as a priest in Jalandhar in April 1990.
He did his Master’s in English and sociology from Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, and earned a doctorate degree in moral theology from Alphonsian Academy of Lateran University, Rome. He remained international treasurer of the Priest Union of India while he was there.
In 2001, he authored A theological investigation into the moral teachings of Guru Nànak from a catholic perspective, his doctoral work. He remained head of the department and professor at Holy Trinity Regional Major Seminary in Jalandhar and member of the diocesan College of Consulters. He also served the Jalandhar diocese as its spokesperson.
He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Latin rite Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi and titular bishop of Chullu on 17 January 2009.
Ceremony in NEW DELHI February 22, 2009: Dr Franco Mulakkal was ordained as the auxiliary Bishop of Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi on Feb 22, 2009. Rev Mulakkal served Punjab diocese for the last several years
Archbishop of Thrissur Andrew Thazhath and Bishop of Jalandar, Anil Couto and
The Pope's representatives in India the Nuncio his Excellency Archbishop Pedro Lopez Qunitana, was also present.
He was consecrated a bishop on 21 February 2009.The letter of appointment of Bishop Franco by Pope Benedict XVI was read out in English and Hindi. Pope Benedict XVI appointed the bishop as the consulter for the pontifical council of inter-religious dialogue in Rome.
In 2012, Bishop Anil Joseph Thomas Couto was transferred to Delhi and Bishop Franco Mulakkal (who was then the auxiliary Bishop of Delhi) took over Jalandhar diocese in 2013. He was appointed bishop of the Latin rite Catholic Diocese of Jalandhar on 13 June 2013 by Pope Francis.
He also serves as the Secretary of the Regional Bishops Conference of North India and Consultor for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.
Politicians flocked to him
In August 2014, then deputy chief minister of Punjab Sukhbir Singh Badal met the bishop at Trinity College in Jalandhar where a sarv dharma prayer had been organised by the diocese. Then chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh too attended the prayer.
Punjab’s former education minister Daljit Singh Cheema was the chief guest at the silver jubilee celebrations of the bishop’s baptism as a priest in May 2015.
The elaborate celebrations took place at the bishop’s native place in Thrissur in Kerala. Apart from the senior Akali leader, former union minister Oscar Fernandes, Thrissur MP C.N. Jayadevan, members of the minority commission were also present at the celebrations.
Before the 2009 parliamentary elections, Mulakkal made it clear that the Christian community will show its resentment against riot-accused BJP candidates in Odisha by not voting for “tainted persons”.
Last year, he led a delegation to meet former Akal Takht jathedar Giani Gurbachan Singh to express dismay over the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib at Bhangawa village, for which a Christian was arrested.
Bishop Mulakkal and his businesses
The Jalandhar diocese is a powerful body that promotes all Catholic Christian activities in Amritsar, Faridkot, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Kapurthala, Ludhiana, Moga, Muktsar, Nawanshahr, Tarn Taran in Punjab besides Chamba, Hamirpur, Kangra and Una in Himachal Pradesh. As its head, the bishop commanded control over the hundreds of institutions — educational and charitable —spread across the two states.
Going by the records of Diocese of Jalandhar, the first seeds of a business was sown with the setting up of an NGO – Navjeevan Charitable Society. The society got registered on June 16, 2008 under the Societies Registration Act (XXI of 1860). The idea of setting up the NGO was mooted by Father Anthony with objectives such as skill development, women empowerment, children welfare and self employment for youth. The then Bishop, Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, had granted the permission to set up the charitable society.After Anil Joseph, Bishop Mulakkal became the Diocese Bishop and the business thrived with his long standing relationship with Delhi and politicians.
The long list of firms they run under Bishop Mulakkal and Father Madasery:
2008: Father Madassery sets up Navjeevan Charitable Society, an NGO.
2009: Navjeevan Enterprises Company comes up under the proprietorship of Father Anthony.
2009: ‘Words Worth Educational And Private Limited (Publishing House)’ established by Father Madasserry in partnership with Sunil Bhaskar, a Delhi based individual
2011: Father Madassery and Delhi-based Sunil Bhaskar set up EduZone Multimedia Private Limited
2011: Two priests, Father Basil and Father John George, establish Prarthana Bhawan TV Channel
2014: Sahodhaya Partnership Company is established by Father Madassery, Father Jose P, Father Paul and Father Scaria under which Sahodaya Text Books and Stationery was set up.
2015: They set up Sahodaya Securities
2015: Sahodhaya Sports Goods Manufacturing comes up
2016: Sahodhaya Garments established
2016: Father Madassery, Father Joseph and one more set up NBFC called ‘Navjeevan Nidhi Limited
2016: Sahodhaya Transport set up by Father Jose P, Father Joseph and Father Paul.
2017: Sahodhaya Construction is established
2017: Smart Solutions formed to provide school boards, computers and other software solution to schools
2017: Father Madassery sets up SHINE (Sacred Heart Institution National Entrance), a coaching center in Ludhiana