After the Maronites and the Ukrainians, a new chief shepherd for the Syro-Malabarese

It seems that 2011 is shaping up to be the year in which the eastern churches united to Rome are picking new major archbishops and patriarchs (which, I assume, sounds like bad news for those men who are still in good health or relatively young), for, after the Maronite Church elected Bechara Pierre Raï as their patriarch in March and the Ukrainian Church picked Sviatoslav Shevchuk as major archbishop very shortly after that, it is now the Syro-Malabarese Church of southern India to get a new chief shepherd.

The Syro-Malabarese Church is a church with its own rite and culture in union with Rome. Its heartland is the southern Indian state of Kerala and it traces its origins to the evangelisation efforts of Saint Thomas the Apostle, who, tradition says, travelled to India after the resurrection of the Lord to spread the good news there.

The Syro-Malabarese Church has one major archdiocese (of which more below), four regular archdioceses and twenty-four dioceses (twenty-three in India and one in the United States). There are also four religious orders. The Major Archdiocese of Ernakulam-Angamaly has pride of place among these, and on 1 April of this year it lost its major archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil. After his death the bishops of the church came together in conclave to elect a successor and, as is customary for the eastern churches in union with Rome, it is up to the pope to confirm the election. Pope Benedict XVI did not hesitate in doing so and yesterday Major Archbishop George Alencherry was confirmed as the new head of the Syro-Malabarese Church.

Major Archbishop Alencherry is 66 and before his election he was the bishop of the Diocese of Thuckalay on India’s far southern tip, a position he had held since 1996. Mar Alencherry has been a priest since 1972.

The website of the archdiocese, linked above, announces that Mar Alencherry will be installed next Sunday, the 29th. The same website also offers a profile of the new head of the 3.6 million Syro-Malabarese Catholics.

3 thoughts on “After the Maronites and the Ukrainians, a new chief shepherd for the Syro-Malabarese”

  1. The official title of Roman Curia is Major Arch Bishop, but there is no tradition of Major Arch Bishop in Thomasine Christianity. The ancient Syriac Manuscript written at Kodungalloor in 1301 AD document clearly addresses our Head as Metropolitan and the Gate of All India. Parambil Chandy Metran also used the title Metropolitan and the Gate of India.

    The head of a Church in Eastern tradition is also Patriarch. The title Major Arch Bishop is almost equal to Patriarch if we view from outside. The Syro-Malanakra Catholics call their Major Arch Bishop as Katholicose.

    1. Thanks for that inside information. As an outsider and for clarity’s sake, I stuck with the one title: major archbishop (although I did refer to him as Mar Alencherry, following the example of the archdiocese’s website). But you are correct of course, Mar Alencherry is also (and primarily) Metropolitan and Gate of India, although in the wider Catholica he is called Major Archbishop – an equal to the other Major Archbishops of the Romanian, Ukrainian and Syro-Malankar churches.

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