For the Ukrainians, a new diocese

Following a flurry of interesting appointments (among them the appointment of a coadjutor archbishop for Ireland’s premier see and the confirmation of a new patriarch for Egypt’s Catholic Copts), there was also a creation that affects the Ukrainian Catholics in our part of the world.

borys gudziakThe Apostolic Exarchate of France, which also covered Switzerland and the Benelux was elevated as the Eparchy, or Diocese, of St. Vladimir the Great of Paris. Bishop Borys Gudziak (pictured), appointed as apostolic exarch only six months ago, becomes the first bishop of this new diocese. He is now a full ordinary and therefore no longer the titular diocese of Carcabia. Many responsibilities that previously were held by the Holy See, now fall under the bishop, and the new diocese falls directly under the major archbishop of the Ukrainian Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The diocese is home to some 20,000 Ukrainian Catholics spread over five countries. It’s home base is the Cathedral of St. Vladimir the Great in Paris. The vast majority of faithful reside in France and Belgium. There seems to be little to no organisation in the Netherlands, although the territory does belong to the new diocese.

A day before, the Apostolic Exarchate of Great Britain become the Eparchy of the Holy Family of London, leaving only the Apostolic Exarchate of Germany and Scandinavia as the only Ukrainian jurisdiction in Europe that is not (yet) a diocese.

Photo credit: Yaryna Brylynska

A new chief shepherd for the Maronites

Across the world the one Catholic Church is present in various cultures and societies in different ways. Especially in the Middle East we find various Churches which are styled Catholic. Examples are the Armenian Catholic Church, the Coptic Catholic Church and the topic of this blog post, the Maronite Church. These are not separate churches, but churches in ‘full communion’ with Rome. This means what I wrote in my first sentences: rather than different churches assembled under the banner of Rome, they are embodiments of the one Catholic Church in various countries.

These churches, while being Catholic and thus part of the pope’s patrimony, are often led by patriarchs (although the exact title may differ per church). For almost 25 years the Maronite Church was led by Cardinal-Patriarch Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir. Although Maronite patriarchs usually stay on until death, 90-year-old Patriarch Sfeir’s resignation was accepted in late February.

In a conclave that is strikingly similar to the election of a new pope, the Maronite bishops came together in the Maronite heartland of Bkerké, Lebanon and, after five days, they elected Bishop Béchara Raï  of Jbeil as the new patriarch. Patriarch Raï will be formally enthroned on 25 March.

The Maronite Church traces its foundation to Saint John Maron, who established the Christian community at Bkerké in the 7th century. Today, the Maronite Church claims between 3 and 3.5 million faithful across the globe. It has 8 archdioceses, 15 dioceses and 2 patriarchal exarchates in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada, Australia, Argentina and Jordan.

So history and numbers come together to assure the importance of this new appointment. Patriarch Raï is 71 and not unfamiliar with his patriarchal see of Antioch; he was auxiliary bishop there between 1986 and 1990 before being appointed to Jbeil. In Lebanon, the historic heartland of the Maronites, the patriarch is an important political player, although he is not involved in any local or national government himself, of course. Patriarch Raï is considered to be a moderate with good connections with all political players.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Bilal Hussein