Today in Lebanon, the Holy Synod of the Syriac Orthodox Church elected Mar Ignatius Aphrem II Karim as the new Patriarch of Antioch.
Elie Essa Kas Hanna, the DHI’s advisor on religious freedom, made the following observation: “During his years as hierarch of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States, His Holiness has distinguished himself as an ecumenist very much concerned with Christian unity. He served on both the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches, attending the 1991 WCC General Assembly in Canberra, the 1998 WCC General Assembly in Harare, and the 2006 Assembly in Porto Alegre. Moreover, he has been an active member of the Executive and Governing Boards of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and serves as a Vice-Chairman of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America. Interestingly, in recent years, His Holiness has been instrumental in the establishment of a new ecumenical body, Christian Churches Together in the USA, of which the Syrian Orthodox Church is a founding member. In all his ecumenical activities, Archbishop Cyril most capably represented the Holy Church and has won the admiration and respect of his colleagues and confreres.”
Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino, Honorary President of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, wished the new Patriarch every success with his new responsibilities: “In these moments, it is difficult not to think of the missing Bishop of Aleppo, Bishop Mar Gregorius, who was kidnapped last year. I know that the new Patriarch served as secretary for a number of years to Bishop Gregorius – this election gives the universal church a good opportunity to pray in unison for Bishop Gregorius’s release and safe return to his flock.”
“I pray that His Holiness will be fortified by the words of Our Lord – words lived by his mentor Bishop Gregorius with such heroic witness: ‘He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.’ (John 10:11-13).”
Cardinal Martino concluded: “These are critical times for Christianity in the Middle East, where extremism and fanaticism have been on the increase: most especially in the last three years. The flock in these beleaguered lands is in need of a strong shepherd now more than ever, and in that regard, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem is a response to so many prayers. I wish him every success, and will hold his mission very closely in my prayers.”
Note to Editors
In 1985, His Holiness made his religious profession as a monk, and was ordained to the diaconate in Egypt. In 1989, His Holiness entered St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland, from where he received a licentiate of sacred theology in 1991, and his doctor of divinity in 1994, (his doctoral thesis was on the symbolism of the Cross in early Syriac Christianity). On Sunday, January 28, 1996, Aphrem Karim was consecrated as Metropolitan and Patriarchal Vicar of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States by His Holiness Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I.