Kerala’s ‘fitness priest’ making news and getting noticed

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Chalakudy: Can religion and a great body go hand in hand?

Yes, says Father Joseph Sunny Mandakath of Irinjalakuda, a Syro-Malabar diocese in Kerala, southern India.

The 36-year-old bearded priest participated in a body building competition on February 18 organized by Bodybuilding and Fitness Association at Aranattukara Tagore Hall in Kerala’s Thrissur town.

Father Mandakath was placed in the best of ten in the “Model Physique (men’s physique)” category.

“Many of my friend priests called and congratulated me. Many told me that they are inspired to keep good physical condition and to work out,” Father Mandakath told Matters India on February 23.

He is the current vicar of Our Lady of Graces Church, Thuruthipparambu, a parish of some 290 families near Chalakudy.

“My parishioners know that I work out regularly,” he says.

The priest also said the parish promotes sports activities and its youth associates takes part in them with great enthusiasam. “We put up a new volleyball court, besides a badminton court.”

He also said these activities go along with vibrant spiritual and pastoral activities.

Son of Sunny and Glory Mandakath, he did his priestly studies from St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Alwaye, Kerala, and Papal Seminary in Pune, Maharashtra. He was ordained a priest on December 27, 2008. He has a younger brother Thomas, who is working in Dubai as a mechanical engineer.

Father Mandakath says he believes health and fitness is as important as delivering a sermon at church.

He was always keen on body building and a healthier lifestyle. His status as a Catholic priest didn’t hold him back to follow his convictions, he said.

“I used to play basketball while in the seminary. After becoming a priest, I began to go to gym for maintaining general fitness,” the smiling priest explained.

He also said he prepared for the competition for the past five months with specific diet and workouts.

The priest thanked his gym instructor Santhosh Vaakkumchery for his success. “He is my best friend without whom I would not have gone on the stage,” he added.

Leading a religious congregation requires an immense amount of both spiritual and physical energy. Pastors do more than deliver religious messages to the masses, they also serve as a role models to their followers. As such, they have vast opportunities to influence healthy lifestyles. 

Meet Greg Oraham, founder of, a mission to keep Church leaders fit and healthy.

Greg Oraham is the founding and Lead Pastor of Foothills Community Church in Seneca, SC. He is also a N.A.S.M Certified Personal Trainer, and overall health and fitness enthusiast.

  • Featured in Men’s Health magazine on a story called “Strength and Service.”
  • Helped dozens of Pastors across America take control of their health.
  • Husband, father and grandfather.
  • Heart disease survivor.

I believe anyone can meet their goals.

At the age of 50, after a routine annual physical exam, it was discovered that I had hereditary cardio-vascular disease. I was immediately scheduled for heart surgery, where 2 heart stents were installed to open blockages.

All of this took me by complete surprise. I had always tried to maintain my health. I exercised regularly and tried to eat well. I was not overweight, I didn’t smoke or fit into any of the other classic categories of people with heart disease. In fact, I had no symptoms whatsoever.

When I got home after the surgery, I was shocked, angry, frustrated, and fearful.  I was determined that I was going to do everything I could do from a human standpoint to make sure it would never happen again.

I also made a vow that day that changed the course of my life. I vowed that I was not only going to maintain my health, but I was going to get in the best shape of my life! Now I know what you’re thinking: that’s pretty big talk for a 50 year old. However, I knew that it was not only possible but it was inevitable!!

It was not easy, but I did it. I can honestly say that today, as a 57 year old man, that I am in the best shape of my life. I am stronger today than I’ve ever been. I can do things that most people half my age cannot do. I am not saying this boastfully, I am saying this to encourage YOU. If I can do it, so can you. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.  Will it be worth it? You bet!

(With significant input from Matters India)

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