Today’s election took place during the extraordinary Synod currently underway in Aley, Lebanon. Born in Damascus in 1946, he has served as a patriarchal vicar in the Syrian capital since 2007. His elevation follows the resignation of Patriarch Emeritus Gregory III Lahham at the end of a troubled period for the community.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Bishop Joseph Absi, patriarchal vicar of the Archeparchy of Damascus (Syria), is the new patriarch of the Greek-Melkite Church.
His election took place today during the extraordinary Synod currently underway in Aley, a hilltop town about 17 km south-east of Beirut (Lebanon), following the resignation of Gregory III Lahham.
The resignation of the patriarch emeritus ends a troubled period marked by contrasts between the former patriarch and some "rebel" bishops. The row ended through the mediation of the apostolic nuncio to Syria Card Mario Zenari and his colleague in Lebanon Mgr Gabriele Caccia.
After months of divisions and tensions, which sparked fears of a split within the Church, a desire for communion and reconciliation prevailed between the parties.
The new Patriarch was born on 20 June 1946 in Damascus, Syria, but also has Lebanese citizenship. Since 2007, he has served as patriarchal vicar of the Damascus archeparchy and has personally experienced the years of the Syrian conflict.
He was ordained priest on 6 May 1973, followed by an appointment as chaplain of the Missionary Society of St Paul. On 22 June 2001, he became titular archbishop of Tarsus of Greek Melkites and auxiliary bishop of the Melkite Patriarchate.
Patriarch Emeritus Gregory III Lahham led the ceremony of his episcopal consecration on 2 September 2001. From 2001 to 2006 he served superior general of his community. In 2007, he moved to the Archdiocese of Damascus.
Active with Caritas Syria, he has been responsible for more than 40 humanitarian projects in the Syrian capital, as well as Aleppo and Hasakah.
On a lighter note, the new patriarch wrote the lyrics of a song by Marie Keyrouz, entitled ‘L'ensemble de la Paix’, released in the ‘Cantiques de L'Orient’ CD.
The name Melkite (or Greek Catholic) refers to Christians who follow the Byzantine rite, who have been in communion with Rome since 1724. The Church has its own clergy and spiritual leader.
The Greek Melkite Church includes members not only in the Middle East (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine) but also in Africa (especially Egypt), North America, Brazil and France.
Today it has about 1.7 million members, mostly in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, although communities can be found in diaspora countries, especially Australia, Canada and the United States.
The Melkite liturgy follows the Byzantine rite, typical of most Eastern Christians. In addition, its members are differnt from other Christians in the East by their use of Arabic as the liturgical language, as well as Greek.
In Lebanon, they are the second largest Catholic community after the Maronites.