George and Vimala Philip shares that a daily family time where children are heard, comforted, and strengthened is important for families

George and Vimala Philip, more commonly known as Kochumon and Kochumol, are settled in Tampa, Florida. They migrated to the US in the late 1980s. As a married couple, they have always been active within the Syro-Malabar Catholic community in Tampa. Currently, both Kochumon and Kochumol work in the mailing industry. Kochumol works as a clerk for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and Kochumon is a franchise owner of United Parcel Services (UPS). They are blessed with three children; Fr. Rajeev (son 27 years), Rhea (daughter 23 years), and Rayna (daughter 15 years). 

Could you give us a peek into how your family atmosphere helped nurture the faith and Catholic values and traditions in your children? 

Our daily family prayer was the key. We never skipped our family prayer. From the first day of our married life, we had a regular family prayer structure which included Angelus, the Rosary and the peace prayer of St. Francis Assisi. We always had a regular time of prayer at night. Sometimes the kids would be tired after a long day, but we still made sure that they participated in praying the Angelus and at least one decade of the Rosary before going to sleep. We also tried to make our prayer time lively by singing various devotional songs.

We always tried to live a life that was orientated towards serving the Church. This commitment played an important role in our family life and consequently, in our children’s faith formation. Daddy was very zealous in organizing retreats and prayer gatherings for the Catholic Malayalee community in Tampa. Before the inception of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, there was no Syro-Malabar parish in Tampa. Hence, our spiritual lives revolved around the life of the local parish. However, there was a periodic Malayalam Qurbana in Tampa. The regular retreats and prayer gatherings also helped us to grow as a community like the early Christian community and allowed us to be constantly renewed in our faith. We used to host many visiting priests and retreat preachers when they visited Tampa. Their presence at our home contributed much to our children’s spiritual growth. Currently, we have a vibrant Syro-Malabar parish community here and this has allowed us to practice our faith in a more ardent and traditional way.

Constant communication was another helpful element. Each day after family prayer, we had some dedicated time where we discussed and shared the day’s challenges and accomplishments. We also talked about future things and made some form of ‘to-do’ lists. This helped us to be on track and kept us informed of what is going on with each family member. Obviously life in the US is very fast paced, especially if both parents are working. In the pre-cell phone era, this family time helped us to stay informed and organized. Even now, with the help of technology we stay connected. Fr. Rajeev is in Houston and our older daughter, Rhea is in college, and we stay connected through our family chat group to support and strengthen each other.

From the first day of our married life,

we had a regular family prayer structure

which included Angelus, the  Rosary and

the peace prayer of St. Francis Assisi 

Education was an important focus in our family. We wanted to give our kids the best education possible, without compromising our faith values. Fr. Rajeev studied in a Catholic school from pre-school to 12th Grade. A Catholic School education was very expensive and neither of us were very highly paid. However, we chose to send him to a Catholic school and his constant involvement with the school, church activities and constant contact with priests helped him to receive the faith values and reverence to consecrated life.

We also decided to say “No” to the Malayalee American party culture. This helped us to keep our family values and morals. Being surrounded by our relatives and friends weekend parties and gatherings were frequent. It was very hard to say “No” to the parties, but we consciously made an effort to avoid that, especially if alcohol was being served. We never used to allow any alcohol at our home.

What are some of the faith practices, habits, and traditions in your family?

  • Daily family prayer in the morning and at night
  • Strict observation of Lent
  • Scheduling regular family time
  • Pray and making the Sign of the Cross before leaving the house
  • During vacations to India, we made it a point to go and visit seminaries, churches, and priests
  • Living the Sacramental life
  • Being obedient to the precepts of the church, especially in supporting church activities physically and financially.

Your son Rajeev is a priest with the Syro-Malabar church in the US. Could you tell us a bit about how his call to priesthood was identified and preserved?

Rajeev went to the local Catholic school, Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High school. There, he interacted closely with the priests of the diocese, school teachers and also became involved with church activities. He had a year-long confirmation preparation. It was a requirement for confirmation candidates to listen to the Sunday Gospel and prepare a reflection based on the readings and homily. This eventually became a family activity where everyone at home was involved in the discussion and reflection of the Sunday Gospel and homily for a whole year and his presentation was well appreciated by the teachers and parents. This was a motivating factor for all of us!

Simultaneously, during high school years Rajeev started attending Jesus Youth prayer gatherings. Their mentoring and accompaniment helped him to grow in his desire for holiness and to hear God’s call for him to become a priest. During his college studies at the University of South Florida, he had some good Jesus Youth elders and friends and was involved in their regular prayer meetings. The vocation promoter from St. Petersburg Diocese, Fr. Len Plazewski was in constant touch with Rajeev, helping him discern his vocation. For almost one year he spent time in constant adoration and prayer, to discern God’s call. He also had a priest spiritual director to help him make the decision.

Eventually, when Bishop Lynch of the St. Petersburg Diocese asked him if he is interested in joining the seminary, he said “YES”.  That was a big “YES”.  However, his involvement with Jesus Youth helped him to interact with Jesus Youth National leaders and also with Fr. Vinod Madathiparambil, the former vocation promotor of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago. Discerning his call and desire to become a priest, Bishop Mar Jacob Angadiath reached out to him. Though Rajeev was more inclined to become a priest for the Latin diocese, a native Syro-Malabar priest seemed to be the need of the time. He felt a need for the younger generation of the Syro-Malabar community of Chicago Diocese, to come of age, and so he took the decision to join the seminary for the Syro-Malabar rite.

What is your advice to the young families in this country on parenting, nurturing vocation and in leading a true witnessing life for Christ?

We would say family prayer is the most important factor in instilling faith in children. This time of family prayer should be made “kid friendly”. Family time is very important where children are heard, comforted and strengthened to get through their day to day struggles. A prayerful witnessing in the family will impart morals and values, cultivate faith habits, promote a genuine love towards the Church, and respect towards priesthood and consecrated life.  The grace that flows to that family will reach the children and help them to seek the will of God and to live out a desire to lead a life glorifying God.

A life centered around Christ, in the Church and with the community will nurture trust in God. Our children should be protected from today’s culture. Avoid excess media time, party culture and consumerism. Be a good role model for kids! Encourage them to participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Parents, especially fathers need to spend more time with children as they have a long-lasting effect in children’s faith formation.  The convictions and strong faith they receive from fathers produce long-lasting fruits. This loving atmosphere is very important. We should never expect to win them with anger. As parents, we should bend down and listen to them and correct them lovingly.

Sabeena Roncy is a proud Catholic and a Jesus Youth, living in Houston, USA,
with her husband and three children.