The synod of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church elected on Wednesday Archbishop Youssef Absi as the Church’s new patriarch, who received ecclesiastical communion from Pope Francis the following day.
Elected June 21, Absi, 71, succeeds Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, who retired May 6 at the age of 83.
The new patriarch was born in Damascus in 1946. He was ordained a priest of the Missionary Society of St. Paul in 1973. He became superior general of the society in 1999, and two years later was appointed curial bishop of the Melkite Patriarchate of Antioch. In 2007, he was appointed the Patriarchal Vicar of of the Melkite Archdiocese of Damascus.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church is an Eastern Catholic Church of the Byzantine rite, and it consists of some 1.5 million members. It is based in Syria and Lebanon, and most of its eparchies are in the Arab world. It also has structures to serve the Melkite diaspora in Australia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela.
The Melkite Church traces its roots to the earliest days of Christianity, when Sts. Peter and Paul first evangelized the peoples of Syria, where followers of Christ were first called “Christians.”
During the 2010 Synod on the Middle East, Absi lamented the strife among the Eastern Catholic Churches, calling the struggle a “fount of impairment and false testimony,” according to Vatican Insider.
“The Christians of the East,” he said, “are all on the same boat, and confront the same struggle. They cannot be disinterested each in the other.”
The new patriarch holds licentiates in philosophy and theology, and a doctorate in musical sciences and Byzantine hymnography from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Lebanon. He has taught philosophy, Greek, and musicology at the university level.
Pope Francis wrote to Absi the day after his election, congratulating him and granting him ecclesiastical communion.
Francis also noted the tribulation facing Christians in the region.
“The election of Your Beatitude comes at the time of a delicate situation for the venerable Greco-Melkite Church and when many Christian communities in the Middle East are called to bear witness in a special way to their faith in the dead and risen Christ,” the Roman Pontiff said.
“In this particularly difficult time, Pastors are called upon to manifest communion, unity, closeness, solidarity and transparency before the suffering people of God.
“I am certain that your Beatitude, in fraternal harmony with all the Synod Fathers, will know, in all evangelical wisdom, how to be not only ‘Pater et Caput’ in the service of the faithful of the Greco-Melkite Church, but also a faithful and authentic witness to the Risen One.”