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The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church

In 1934 Pope Pius XI initiated a process of liturgical reform that sought to restore the oriental nature of the heavily latinized Syro-Malabar rite. A restored eucharistic liturgy, drawing on the original East Syrian sources, was approved by Pius XII in 1957 and introduced in 1962. Despite a reaffirmation of the main lines of the 1962 rite by the Oriental Congregation in 1985, however, there has been strong resistance to this reform. The majority of Syro-Malabar dioceses still use a rite that in externals is hardly distinguishable from the Latin Mass. In January 1996 Pope John Paul II presided over the opening of a special synod of bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church in Rome which was to attempt to overcome factional disputes that have centered on the proposed liturgical reforms. In 1998 Pope John Paul II gave the Syro-Malabar bishops full authority in liturgical matters in a further effort to facilitate a resolution of the dispute. To promote useful discussion of these questions, the Syro-Malbar Church established a Liturgical Research Center at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia in 1999. By the end of 2006, it had organized 28 research seminars and published a number of scholarly studies on liturgical matters.

Until recently there was no single head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, but two metropolitan dioceses (Ernakulam and Changanacherry) of equal rank. On December 16, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Syro-Malabar Church to Major Archepiscopal rank and appointed Cardinal Antony Padiyara of Ernakulam-Angamaly as the first Major Archbishop. He retired in 1996, and was succeeded by Archbishop Varkey Vithayathil in December 1999. Archbishop Vithayathil, who was made a Cardinal in 2001, passed away on April 1, 2011. On the following May 24, the Syro-Malabar Bishops’ Synod elected Bishop George Alencherry of Thuckalay as the new Major Archbishop. He was confirmed in office by Pope Benedict XVI the following day, and was installed on May 29.

The presence of the Syro-Malabar Church was long restricted to Kerala and surrounding areas. But with the emigration of large numbers of faithful to other parts of India in recent decades, the Holy See began in 1977 to establish Syro-Malabar dioceses in other parts of the country where Latin dioceses already existed. Today there are 15 diocese in the Kerala region that make up the proper territory of the Syro-Malabar Church, all under the authority of the Major Archbishop. The bishops of the 10 Indian dioceses outside Kerala are members of the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, but are suffragans of local Latin archdioceses.

In March 2001 Pope John Paul II erected the diocese of St. Thomas of Chicago of the Syro-Malabars, the church’s first diocese outside India. Led by Bishop Jacob Angadiath, who is also Apostolic Visitator for Syro-Malabar Catholics in Canada, the diocese (3009 South 49th Avenue, Cicero, Illinois 60804) has eight parishes and 29 other worshiping communities serving an estimated 100,000 faithful in the country.

Location: India, especially Kerala State
Head: Mar George Cardinal Alencherry (born 1945, elected 2011, cardinal 2012)
Title: Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
Residence: Ernakulam, India
Membership: 3,829,000

Last Modified: 30 Mar 2012

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