New Syrian Catholic Patriarch comes from American diocese

The head of a small American diocese has been elected leader of the worldwide Syrian Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI has recognized Patriarch Youssif III Younan of Antioch, who was elected by the Syrian Catholic Synod meeting in Rome this week. At a January 23 private audience with the Syrian Synod, the Holy Father granted the new Patriarch’s formal request for ecclesial communion, and remarked that the Syrian Church traces its historic roots back to the very origins of Christianity, and the time when “the apostles Peter and Paul were intimately associated with Antioch, where the disciples of Jesus first received the name of Christians.” The Pope added: “My hope is that in the East, where the Gospel was first announced, Christian communities may continue to live and bear witness to their faith, as they have over the centuries.”

Born in Syria in 1944, the new Patriarch of Antioch was ordained to the priesthood in 1971 and consecrated as the first bishop of the newly created Syrian Catholic diocese of Newark, New Jersey, in 1995. Thus Pope Benedict observed that “the diaspora has also contributed to giving the Syriac Church her new patriarch.”