Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Pope's "Major" Assent

In this morning's dispatches, the Pope confirmed the election of Archbishop Isaac Cleemis of Tiruvalla as the new major- archbishop of Trivandrum and head of India's Syro-Malankara rite. Shown being driven around his former see on a two-wheeler during a transit strike last year, Cleemis, 47, will be installed in early March. He was elected on Thursday by the six other bishops of the sui iuris church who form its Synod.

Numbering about 450,000, the Syro-Malankar community continues the Christian legacy brought to India by St Thomas, drawing its ecclesiology from the Antiochian tradition of the east. Largely concentrated in the Indian state of Kerala, the church was brought to greater prominence two years ago today when, in one of his last official acts, Pope John Paul II elevated its mother see of Trivandrum to a major archbishopric.

Ranking above metropolitan archbishops in the order of ecclesiastical precedence, major archbishops are heads of certain autonomous oriental churches in communion with the Holy See who enjoy in practice the rights and dignity granted to patriarchs, but without the formal concession of the title by Rome. The dignity was initially devised as a compromise to recognize the head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church as that community endured persecution at home and many of its leaders were scattered in exile abroad. Then-Metropolitan Josef Slipyj of Lviv was named the first major archbishop in 1963 and elevated to the college of cardinals two years later. (The UGCC major archeparchy was moved to Kiev in 2005.)

Since that time, three other rites have been elevated to the special status -- Ernakulam-Angamaly of the Syro-Malybars, also in India and elevated in 1992; Trivandrum in 2005 and, later that year, Fagaras and Alba Iulia of the Romanians. (The latter elevation was granted by Pope Benedict XVI.)

A product of the Angelicum, Cleemis earned his doctorate in theology from the Roman university in 1996. Ordained an auxiliary of Trivandrum in 2001, he was named bishop of Tiruvalla in 2003; the diocese was elevated to metropolitan rank last year. As major archbishop, he succeeds Archbishop Cyril Baselios Malancharuvil, who died suddenly on 18 January at the age of 71.

At its meeting last year in Bangalore, the new major archbishop was elected second vice-president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.