The ceremony unfolded in the presence of the Maronite Patriarch, Nasrallah Cardinal Sfeir, and an ecumenical assembly of patriarchs, bishops and priests from most Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches, including the Patriarch of the Syro-Malankar community of India, Abhram Mar Julios. The Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr Luigi Gatti, and the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, Mgr Theodore McCarrick, represented the western branch of the Church.
Surrounded by bishops of his community, the Patriarch made his way into the Church, head covered by a white veil. He moved forward among the lines of festive worshippers and remained behind the altar till the end of the religious service in accordance with a ritual that recalls Jesus’ retreat into the desert.
At the end of the Mass, he was enthroned by the bishops of his community, before whom he knelt and who laid their hands upon him.
Kneeling before the bishops, the new patriarch accepted his pastoral charge. When he said “I agree and accept” hundreds of faithful from Syria broke out in applause and shouts of joy.
The new patriarch then blessed the faithful from a chair lifted three times by members of the Synod, aided by young priests.
In his address at the end of the ceremony, the new patriarch thanked Cardinal McCarrick, who was his “spiritual father at the start of his service as a priest in the United States.”
Washington’s old Catholic bishop led the new patriarch’s ordination as the new bishop of the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance in Newark, set up in 1995 for Syriac Catholics in the United States and Canada.
His speech’s epigraph read “I have become all things to all”, a quote from Saint Paul that reflects his concern to bring together members of his community, bishops and priests, scattered around the world, and reconcile his role as father and leader, holding together the “divergent outlooks and ideas that characterise people and institutions.”
Born in Syria, as a priest he took parish duties in Lebanon, in the same Syriac neighbourhood that is home to the church in which he became patriarch. Before he was elevated to the dignity of bishop he was a missionary in Canada and the United States, later becoming an apostolic visitor for Syriac Catholics in Central America.
Benedict XVI granted “ecclesiastic communion” to the new patriarch after he was elected at the helm of the Church of Antioch and all the East of the Syrians by the Synod held in Rome on 18-20 January past.
In his address the Pope invited the new patriarch and the Syriac Catholic Church to “sowers of peace, first of all in the Holy Land, Iraq and Lebanon, where the Syriac Church can claim a well-appreciated historical presence.”
“It is my wish to see that in the East, where the Gospel was announced, Christian communities may continue to live and bear witness to their faith as they have done over the centuries, keen on providing pastoral care to those who now live elsewhere so that they may remain fruitfully connected to their religious roots,” Benedict XVI added.