The Kerala-based Oriental Catholic rite, which claims its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle, elected Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay as its Major Archbishop.
The newly appointed bishop said his services will be for all people of India. He stressed inter-rite relations, inter-faith harmony and ecumenism. The Syro-Malabar Church along with the other Oriental rite Syro-Malankara Church and the Latin rite make up the Catholic Church in India.
Bishop Alencherry, 66, succeeds Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, who headed the Church. The 84-year-old cardinal died April 1 after a prolonged heart ailment.
Pope John Paul II had appointed Cardinal Vithayathil its Major Archbishop in 1999.
Bishop Alencherry, however, is the first head to be elected by the Oriental Church’s synod. The election is part of the new administrative system put in place within the Syro-Malabar Church after Pope John Paul II made it a Major Archiepiscopal Church in 1992.
With that elevation the pope appointed Cardinal Antony Padiyara as its first Major Archbishop. However, the pope reserved the powers to appoint the major archbishop and bishops.
The Vatican in 2004 granted full administrative powers to the Church, including the power to elect bishops.
The synod, following Syro-Malabar Church rules, met at its headquarters in Kochi to elect a new leader. The synod will conclude on May 29.
Bishop Alencherry, born in 1945 in Kerala’s Kottayam district, was ordained a priest in 1972. He became bishop of Thuckalay in 1997. He is currently the secretary of the Syro-Malabar Synod and also the chairman of the Synodal Commission for Catechesis.