Pope Benedict XVI names Major Archbishop Mar Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, in Kerala of India as Cardinal. He is the first Cardinal of the Syro-Malankara rite of the Catholic Church. At 53, he is among the youngest Cardinals in the Catholic Church. Kerala is now home to two Cardinals, with Mar George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church being appointed as Cardinal earlier this year.
Born Isaac Thottunkal in Pathanthitta, Mukkoor, Kerala, June 15, 1959, Mar Cleemis will become the youngest of the 211 members of the College of Cardinals (with 120 under the age of 80). His record spans from the pre-degree he completed at St. Berchman’s College, Changanassery, to the doctorate he obtained at St. Thomas Pontifical University in Rome (in Ecumenism) in 1997. He was a priest at the diocese of Bathery and has also served as patron of the Indian Christian Forum and the St. Thomas Ecumenical Federation of India in the U.S. Mar Cleemis was consecrated as Bishop of Thiruvalla in 2003 and was elevated as Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Church in 2007. New Cardinal has urged Christians to focus on human life, human dignity and human rights as obligations. He is focussed on very practical means of evangelization: a witnessing model, devised by Mother Theresa. The new cardinal’s appointment is viewed as an acknowledgment of “the vibrancy and diversity of the different rites in the Catholic Church.”
The Syro-Malankara Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church based in the southwest Indian state of Kerala. It has more than 400,000 members, including 10,000 in North America. Currently about 600 priests serve the Syro-Malankara people, while the seminarians are nearly 500. There are also 2,000 nuns in 16 different religious institutes and 480 charitable agencies, and almost as many formation institutes.It is one of two Eastern churches that, along with the Latin Church, make up the Catholic Church in India. The other is the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.