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New Jersey prelate to lead Syrian Orthodox Church

Catholic World News - April 02, 2014

A bishop who has ministered in New Jersey since 1996 has been elected the head of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

Born in Syria in 1965, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, though Syrian Orthodox, received licentiate and doctorate degrees from a Catholic institution, St. Patrick’s College in Maynooth, Ireland. In 1996, he was named head of the Archdiocese of the Syriac Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States.

Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II Karim succeeds Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I Iwas, who had governed the church since 1980 and whom Pope Francis lauded as one of the Christian world’s “outstanding spiritual leaders.”

The new patriarch vowed to govern from Syria rather than Lebanon, where the patriarchal election took place. “I believe that the Syriac Orthodox patriarch never should be moved from Damascus, it’s the right place, so I’m ready to move back to my native country to serve my church as its new shepherd,” he said in an interview with World Watch Monitor.

The Syrian Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Orthodox churches that ceased to be in full communion with the Holy See following the Council of Chalcedon in 451. According to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, the church has 500,000 members in Syria and 1.2 million in India.

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