Telephones kept ringing while priests, nuns and lay leaders streamed in and out the office of the newly elected head of the Syro-Malabar Church. How does Major Archbishop George Alencherry feel being the first elected Asian Church leader? “I feel it is part of the plan of God for this individual Church. I happened to be the instrument for that plan,” the prelate said on Friday, a day after his election as the leader of the larger of India’s Oriental Catholic rites. Although Church observers and media groups described him as the dark horse in the race, the new leader says he was prepared for the post as other bishops had recently given him enough indication for him to believe he could be elected. “The surprise was lessened because other bishops used to tell me to accept the post if such a call comes from God. So, I was reflecting on their friendly advice,” the 66-year-old prelate said. He is convinced he has a special mission and he will fulfill it with the cooperation of bishops of his Church as well those in Latin and Syro-Malankara Churches that make up the Catholic Church in India. Major Archbishop Alencherry says his priority is to collaborate with other Churches and religions for the welfare of all people in the country. He would also strive for unity and communion within his Church so that it can take up “effective evangelization” works within India and in other mission countries. He regrets, however, that his Church cannot exercise its right to evangelize because Rome has restricted its jurisdiction to Kerala, the southern Indian state where it is based. Asked if he subscribed to the position of his predecessor that Rome had done injustice to his Church with such an imposition, the new major archbishop said “nobody has done anyone injustice,” but “there is a situation of injustice.” Evangelization, he says, is a right Christ has given to all Churches. “Unfortunately, there are some who do not understand the reasonability of this,” he added. However, at the same time there are many in the Latin rite who are convinced about the need to allow the Oriental Churches in India to engage in evangelization, he said. He says this problem stems from the inability of some Church leaders to understand coexistence of various Churches in a place. Rome is convinced of his Church’s demand for right to evangelization and giving pastoral care to its people living outside Kerala, he says. “The Holy See is struggling to take along those who are not convinced of this ecclesial position. When it will succeed, I cannot say." He says some Latin rite bishops fail to understand the diversities of various Churches since they only know the single jurisdiction practice of their Church. This is causing problems in the Persian Gulf countries and Europe where a sizeable number of Syro Malabar Catholics are found.
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