BANGALORE, India (CNS) — Archbishop George Alencherry, the new major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, said his priorities would be “evangelization, greater unity and communion with other churches.”
“My aim is to serve with love through dialogue,” he told Catholic News Service in a May 27 telephone interview from Mount St. Thomas, headquarters of the Syro-Malabar Church, in Cochin.
Asked about how he was planning to take care of the Syro-Malabar Catholics who have migrated in large numbers to different parts of India and abroad, Archbishop Alencherry replied that “the pastoral rights of our church members, as spelled out by canon law, will be pursued through the structures of the church, including the Vatican.”
Though the Syro-Malabar Church has more than
3.6 million members, more than half a million of them are scattered outside Kerala state, where the church remains the largest Christian denomination. The 66-year-old bishop of Thuckalay was elected major archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly by the Syro-Malabar bishops’ synod May 24. Pope Benedict confirmed the election the following day.
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, the sixth of 10 children in a farm family in Thuruthy. He has a sister who is a nun and two brothers who are priest. All three priests were ordained Dec. 18, although in different years.
Archbishop Alencherry 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.