Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Rookie Among Rookies: For India's Syro-Malankars, A Historic Red Hat

Perhaps fittingly for an intake that was decidely Eastward-looking – or, as the Italians would have it, "soli stranieri" (read: "all strangers") – it bears noting that this morning brought the elevation of the youngest member of the Pope's Senate in the figure of the 53 year-old head of India's Syro-Malankara Catholics, now Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, shown above making the rounds following his induction.

Only granted quasi-patriarchal status as a major archbishopric in early 2005, the first-ever red hat for the 600,000-member community comes as a rather rapid triumph on several accounts. Over the last two decades, all of two clerics were younger still on entering the College: the Hungarian primate Peter Erdö (now head of the European bishops' conference) at 51 in 2003 and Sarajevo's Vinko Puljic, who John Paul II elevated at 49 in 1994 as the late pontiff's sign of solidarity with the war-torn city, to which he was unable to travel amid the conflict over the breakup of Yugoslavia. 

An alum of Rome's Angelicum – where he received his doctorate in ecumenical theology in 1997 – Cleemis is a full two years' junior to the next-youngest "prince" of the church, Manila's Chito Tagle, who was likewise created today. As previously noted, the "50 barrier" last broken by Puljic is next expected to lift in the mid-term future with the all-but-certain elevation of the leader of the largest Eastern fold: the major-archbishop of the 6 million-member Ukrainian Greek-Catholic church, 42 year-old Sviatoslav Shevchuk.
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Not to be confused with the larger and more established Syro-Malybar Catholic community – which likewise traces its lineage to St Thomas – the Syro-Malankars' scarlet nod comes just on the heels of the church's establishment of a first jurisdiction outside their home-turf in India's Kerala state: an exarchate (vicariate) for the US, based on Long Island and led by a hierarch chosen by the body's Synod.

As of this writing, the Stateside branch – headed by 52 year-old Bishop Thomas Eusebius, a former secretary-general of the Syro-Malankars' central Curia – numbers some 10,000 members in 15 parishes around the country. (The new cardinal is shown above center, Eusebius to his left, and flanked by then-Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre at the US exarchate's launch.) 

In a 2003 speech to the church's Synod – which elected Thottunkal as its de facto patriarch in February 2007 – John Paul II lauded it as Catholicism's "fastest-growing" branch worldwide. And now, as the community reaches a fresh landmark moment, here's a snip of video from its liturgy, the Holy Qurbono, as led by its first cardinal during a 2009 visit to Dallas:

Thottunkal will offer his Qurbono of Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon in the Basilica of Saints John and Paul on the Coelian Hill – the headquarters of the Passionists which, for seven decades until earlier this year, had been the titular church traditionally given to the cardinal-archbishop of New York.
PHOTOS: Reuters(1); Mary Iapalucci/The Long Island Catholic(2)