New Head of Syro-Malabar Church Elected

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Benedict XVI confirmed the election of the new head of India’s Syro–Malabar Catholic Church.

Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay, 66, was elected major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly by the Syro’Malabar bishops’ synod May 24. Pope Benedict confirmed the election the following day, the Vatican announced May 26.

Archbishop Alencherry succeeds Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, who died at age 84 while celebrating Mass April 1. He had led the Syro-Malabar Church, the larger of the Eastern’rite Catholic churches in India, since 1997.

The new head of the church was born in 1945 in Thuruthy and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kerala University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1972 and ran the religious education program of the Changanacherry archdiocese.

He did further theological studies, specializing in catechesis, eventually earning a doctorate from the Institut Catholique in Paris.

Returning to India, he was director of the Changanacherry catechetical center and later director of the Pastoral Orientation Center, which is sponsored by the Latin–rite, Syro–Malabar and Syro–Malankara Catholic bishops of Kerala state.

He also had served as a professor of pastoral counseling and of systematic theology before being ordained a bishop in 1997.

Fewer than 2 percent of India’s 1 billion residents are Catholic. The church has 161 dioceses in India; 128 of them are Latin rite, 27 belong to the Syro–Malabar Catholic Church and six dioceses belong to the Syro–Malankara Catholic Church.

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