George Alencherry

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Mar George Alencherry
Cardinal, Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly
Mar Alenchery.jpg
Church Syro Malabar Catholic Church
Appointed 24 May 2011
Installed 29 May 2011
Predecessor Mar Varkey Vithayathil
Other posts
Ordination 19 November 1972
by Mar Antony Padiyara
Consecration 2 February 1997
Created Cardinal 18 February 2012
by Pope Benedict XVI
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Born (1945-04-19) 19 April 1945 (age 72)
Thuruthy, Kottayam district, Kerala, India
Denomination Catholic Saint Thomas Christians
Previous post Catholic Bishop of Thuckalay (1997–2011)
Styles of
George Alencherry
External Ornaments of a Cardinal Bishop.svg
Informal style Cardinal

Cardinal Mar George Alencherry Metropolitan and Gate of all India is the current Catholic Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He was elected by the Holy Synod of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church on 26 May 2011 to succeed Mar Varkey Vithayathil.[1] He was appointed as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church and the titular Archpriest of San Bernardo alle Terme, Rome on 18 February 2012 in Rome.[2]

Early life[edit]

George Alencherry was born on 19 April 1945 as the sixth child of Philipose and Mary Alencherry in Thuruthy in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Archeparchy of Changanassery. Geevarghese is his baptismal name. Mar Alencherry had his primary schooling at St Mary's School (Thuruthy) and secondary education at St Berchman's High School (Changanacherry). He began his priestly formation in 1961 at the archdiocesan minor seminary at Parel, Changanacherry. While he pursued his studies in the minor seminary, he obtained his BA in economics with second rank from St Berchman's College. After the minor seminary studies he was sent to St Joseph's Pontifical Seminary (Aluva), where he completed his philosophical and theological studies.

On 18 December 1972 Mar Antony Padiyara, the then archbishop of Chanagancherry, ordained him priest at Marth Mariyam Church (Thuruthy) for the archdiocese of Changanacherry. Later he continued his higher studies at the Pontifical Institute of Theology and Philosophy from where he obtained his master's degree in first rank. While Mar Alencherry was pursuing higher studies at Aluva he served also as vicar of the filial church at Periyarmugham in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Major Archeparchy of Ernakulam-Angamaly. After completion of studies at Aluva, Alencherry was appointed as assistant vicar at the Cathedral church of Changanacherry and Director of the Archdiocesan Faith Formation department. Thereafter he served three years as secretary of the Commission for Catechism of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC). After his tenure in KCBC he was sent to Paris for higher studies. There he pursued his studies at Sorbonne University France and the Catholic Institute from where he obtained his doctorate in biblical theology. On returning to India in 1986, Alencherry was appointed director of the pastoral Oriental Centre (POC) at Palarivattom and deputy secretary of KCBC. He served the Church in Kerala in that capacity until 1993. Simultaneously he had served also as professor at St Thomas Apostolic Seminary (Vadavathoor). He continued to teach at Vadavathoor until 1997. From 1994 to 1996 he was the protosyncellus of the metropolitan of Changanacherry.[3]

Bishop of Thuckalay[edit]

The Diocese of Thuckalay was erected by the Papal bull Apud Indorum on 11 November 1996. It was formed by separating the territory of the Archdiocese of Changanassery that extended over to the state of Tamil Nadu. As then-Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Changanacherry, Alencherry was appointed the first bishop of the new Eparchy. The establishment of the diocese and appointment of the first bishop were promulgated on 18 December 1996. Alencherry was consecrated bishop on 2 February 1997 by Mar Joseph Powathil, Metropolitan Archbishop of Changanassery, with Mar Mathew Vattackuzhy, Bishop of Kanjirappally, and Lawrence Mar Aprem, Bishop of Marthandam, as co-consecrants. He was installed as Bishop of the Diocese on the same day by Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church. The total number of the Catholic faithful in the diocese was 25,000 in 2011.[4]

Election and enthronement[edit]

The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Bishops' holy synod that began on 23 May 2011 at the Major Archiepiscopal Curia at Mount St Thomas (Eranakulam) elected Alencherry to be the head of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The news of the election was announced in the Vatican as well as at Mount St Thomas, the Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Curia, on 26 May 2011. Alencherry was elected as the successor of the deceased Major Archbishop Mar Varkey Vithayathil. He is the first head of the Syro-Malabar Church to be elected by its synod. When Pope John Paul II made the Syro-Malabar Church a major archiepiscopal church in 1992, appointing Antony Padiyara as its first major archbishop, he reserved the power to appoint the major archbishop and bishops. However, in 2004, the Holy See granted full administrative powers to the church, including the power to elect bishops.[3][5]

On 23 May, the first day of the synod, the synod elected Mar George Valiamattam, the Archbishop of Tellicherry, to preside over it. Then followed the procedures of election of the new Major Archbishop. Thereafter the president of the session asked Alencherry whether he accepted the election and in the following sitting the newly elected expressed his acceptance by reading it out before the synod. Immediately the request was sent to the Pope, through the Apostolic Nunciature in New Delhi, for the approval of the election of Alencherry. The papal approval was given on Wednesday, 25 May (evening), and it was communicated to the Administrator, Mar Bosco Puthur, on Thursday, 26 May (morning). The papal approval of the election of Mar Alencherry was announced in the synod by George Valiamattam. Thereafter the newly elected Major Archbishop, in accordance with canon law, made his oath of fidelity and communion to the Holy Synod and the Church. Thereafter all the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Church expressed their respect and ecclesial communion with the new major archbishop. Mar Alencherry said his services would be for all people of India. He stressed inter-rite relations, inter-faith harmony and ecumenism.[3]


On 18 February 2012, Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to the cardinalate, giving him a unique red biretta with a traditional Nasrani cross and gold ring during a ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica,[6] and created him Cardinal-Priest of San Bernardo alle Terme. Earlier cardinals belonging to the Syro Malabar Catholic Church were Joseph Parecattil (28 April 1969), Mar Antony Padiyara (28 June 1988) and Mar Varkey Vithayathil (21 February 2001).

His visit to Rome for his cardinal creation coincided with the arrest of Marine officers on board the Enrica Lexie who shot and killed two Keralite fishermen on a fishing vessel.[7] Comments he made as part of an interview with the Italian Agenzia Fides caused significant controversy as to the essence of his message, leading Cardinal Mar Allencherry to issue clarifying press statements with Fides.[8]

On 24 April 2012, Mar Alencherry was made a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Catholic Churches. He will hold these memberships until his 80th birthday.[9]

His Beatitude Mar George Cardinal Alencherry participated as a cardinal-elector in the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis.[10][11][12][13][14] During the conclave, Alencherry (along with Coptic Catholic Patriarch-Emeritus Antonios Naguib, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, and Syro-Malankara Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis) was one of the four cardinal-electors from outside the Latin Church who wore different vestments, proper to their respective churches.[14]


Pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar Catholics outside the "proper" territory[edit]

Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the Apostolic Nuncio to India (Latin Church) presenting the elected Major Archbishop, His Beatitude Mar George Cardinal Alencherry with the papal gift

Historically the Prelates of St. Thomas Christians were called Archbishops of India. The titles used for them were "Metropolitan and Gate of All India" or "Gate of India". This indicates the highest rank of authority in the Indian Church and the extent of its jurisdiction. He enjoyed an All India jurisdiction, the ruler of the entire Holy Church of Christians of India.[15] The Vatican Codex 22, written in Cranganore in 1301, gives the titles as Metropolitan and director of the entire holy church of Christian India.[16][17] In 1564, Pope Pius IV created the Archdiocese of Angamaly (with jurisdiction over all India). Currently this title belong to the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church and Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church. For the Catholics, in 1600 the Metropolitan status of the see of Angamaly was abolished and was made suffragan to Goa, with far-reaching consequences. Later, the Metropolitan status was restored to the see of Angamaly but never the title of "All India".[18] In 1896, Syro-Malabar Catholics got their own hierarchy, but instead of re-establishing the old jurisdiction over all India, three Apostolic vicariates were established in Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanassery.

By the second half of twentieth century, members of the Syro-Malabar community have emigrated in big numbers to other parts of India and to foreign countries. According to Vatican II and subsequent documents, their pastoral needs must be met by the priests of their own rite and in their own rite. For the pastoral care of these Syro-Malabar Catholics, there exist a Diocese of Kalyan, a Diocese of Chicago, and others. Big cities of India like Delhi, Bangalore, Madras, Calcutta have many Syro-Malabar Catholics.[19]

The faithful of the Syro-Malabar Church are about four million, of which 3 million and 400 thousand live in the twenty-eight dioceses in India. Of these dioceses, eighteen are in the territory of the Syro-Malabar Church itself (Kerala, part of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka). We have a territorial jurisdiction only in these eighteen dioceses. And we'd like to have a territorial jurisdiction covering the whole territory of India: this is one of our appeals to the Holy Father and for us it is an important request. We believe it is our right. Before the arrival of Western missionaries – the Portuguese arrived in the sixteenth century – the jurisdiction of us ‘Catholic Christians among St Thomas' was extended to all of India. Then the Western missionaries, because of the influence of European monarchs, took jurisdiction of India, restricting ours to the areas where we were more concentrated.

— George Alencherry, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, 2011[20]

Christian unity and Petrine ministry[edit]

The Catholic Church through the Council for Christian Unity, has already begun a dialogue on the primacy. I think we should continue the dialogue and seek a common agreement with the Eastern Churches, as there was in the first four centuries of Christianity. At that time there was a common understanding of the primacy. Now the Orthodox Church argues that it is impossible to go back to theology before the Council of Chalcedon because we do not possess any documents from that era. But I think that from the documents and statements subsequent to the time of Chalcedon there would be the possibility of dialogue and agreement on the Petrine ministry. Because there is the phrase primus inter pares. We all need a Petrine ministry of unity, which is a reference for all the Churches. I hope that a halfway point is found where the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches could come together in full communion with the Church of Christ.

— George Alencherry, 2011[20]



  2. ^ Pope appoints 22 new cardinals
  3. ^ a b c
  4. ^ Diocese of Thuckalay
  5. ^ Mar Alencherry is new Syro-Malabar Church head Archived 29 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ Pope Benedict XVI holds Consistory, announces canonizations
  7. ^ Enrica Lexie Crew Arrested
  8. ^ Cardinal Mar Alencherry back says he shares grief of fishermen's families
  9. ^ (in Italian)
  10. ^ "Cardinal electors – Conclave of March 2013 – Arranged in alphabetical order". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Cardinal electors arranged by orders and precedence". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  12. ^ "Cardinal electors arranged by age". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  13. ^ "Conclave of March 2013". Salvador Miranda. Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Procession and entrance in Conclave on YouTube
  15. ^ Rev. Dr. Francis Thonipara, "St. Thomas Christians: The First Indigenous Church of India", p. 69
  16. ^ MS Vat Syr 22; Wilmshurst, EOCE, 343 and 391.
  17. ^ J. P. M. van der Ploeg, "The Christians of St. Thomas in South India and their Syriac manuscripts", p. 187
  18. ^ St. Thomas Christians under the Portuguese Padroado
  19. ^ Pastoral care of the Syro-Malabar Catholics Outside the Proper Territory
  20. ^ a b 30Giorni | "Ours is the faith of the apostles, handed down by St Thomas" (interview by Roberto Rotondo and Gianni Valente)

External links[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Diocese erected
Bishop of Thuckalay
Succeeded by
George Rajendran Kuttinadar SDB
Preceded by
Varkey Vithayathil
Major Archbishop 2of Ernakulam-Angamaly