A new shepherd for the Ukrainians

On the day that the new patriarch of the Maronite Catholics was enthroned, another major church in full communion with Rome receives a new head as well. After is election on Thursday, the name of the new Metropolitan Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč and President of the Synod of the Ukrainian Catholic Church was revealed today. And it is the name of the fourth-youngest bishop in the whole of the Catholic Church: almost 40-year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk.

The Ukrainian Byzantine Church has at least 4 million members in 18 dioceses, 5 archdioceses and 6 exarchates spread across the Ukraine, the United States, Canada, Poland, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Norway, Finland, Sweden, France and the United Kingdom. Until February of this year, the helm of this Byzantine fold of the Catholic Church was in the hands of Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, who held the post since 2004. New Archbishop Shevchuk was  auxiliary bishop of the Argentine diocese from 2009 to early 2010, after which he oversaw that same diocese as apostolic administrator until his election to Kyiv-Halyč.

So another new player enters the field and, considering his young age, will continue to have an influence for decades to come.

EDIT: Two days after his enthronement, Archbishop Shevchuk said that he would ask Pope Benedict XVI to elevate the Ukrainain Church to a patriarchate, saying that “each developing church [becomes] a patriarchate, because a patriarchate is a period in the completion of the development of a church.” If the pope will grant this, remains to be seen. Possible opposition from the Orthodox Church is said to have been a reason for Pope John Paul II to not yet grant this wish, which was also expressed by Cardinal Husar.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

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