PATTOM, India (UCAN) – The Syro-Malankara Church, the youngest rite in the Catholic Church, has begun the process to elect its new major archbishop.
The official start came at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7, when the Church ended its 21-day mourning period for its previous head, Major Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios. The prelate died at 6:45 p.m. on Jan. 18, at the age of 72.
The Oriental Syro-Malankara and Syro-Malabar churches, and the Latin-rite Church make up the Catholic Church in India. The Latin rite, established by European missioners in the 15th century, follows the Roman liturgy, while the two Oriental rites, both based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, follow Syrian Church traditions and trace their origins to St. Thomas the Apostle.
Major archbishops head the two Oriental churches, assuming the title catholicos in the Syro-Malankara Church, as in some other churches.
Formerly a faction of the Jacobite Church, an Orthodox group, the Syro-Malankara Church joined the Catholic fold in 1930 after the Holy See agreed to allow the faction to retain its practices and customs. On Feb. 10, 2005, the late Pope John Paul II made it a sui juris (self-governing) major archiepiscopal church.
Its major archbishop is based in Pattom, a suburb of the Kerala state capital of Thiruvananthapuram, 2,815 kilometers (about 1,745 miles) south of New Delhi. He heads Trivandrum Archdiocese, which follows the former name of the city.
As soon as the mourning period ended, the Syro-Malankara bishops' synod, the church's supreme body, convened to elect the new catholicos. The synod comprises one retired and six active prelates.
According to Malankara practice, the synod can elect any of the bishops or a priest as its new head. Normally only a bishop is elected.
The election process started with prayer and a retreat that lasted 14 hours. Deliberations began at 10 a.m. on Feb. 8. Retired Syro-Malabar Archbishop Joseph Powathil of Changanacherry led the retreat, at the end of which the bishops offered special prayers at the tombs of the church's three previous heads, including Archbishop Baselios.
The synod venue is closed to the press. Church sources informed UCA News they expect the synod to elect the new catholicos by Feb. 8 evening. But they said the Church would wait until Feb. 10, after the Vatican endorses the election, to announce the name.
According to the sources, the synod would inform the apostolic nuncio in New Delhi and the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, based in Rome, of the result as soon as the election is over. Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daoud, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, would take the letter to the pope for his endorsement, the sources added.
They said the late prelate had not expressed his choice of a successor. "Whenever the senior bishops asked for his opinion, he used to tell them the synod would decide the major archbishop," one source recalled.
Soon after Major Archbishop Baselios' death, the synod elected Bishop Geevarghese Mar Divannasios of Bathery, the most senior prelate, as the church's administrator. He oversees the election of the new major archbishop.
Meanwhile, the synod elected Father Chacko Aerath as a bishop and new apostolic visitor in India for Church members outside its dioceses. The announcement came 150 minutes before the mourning period ended.
The bishop-elect is a member of the Order of the Imitation of Christ, a Syro-Malankara religious congregation. He was ordained a priest in 1986.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).