The red biretta Pope Benedict XVI presented to Cardinal Mar George Alencherry on Saturday at the consistory in Rome had the St. Thomas Cross on it in the unique tradition of the Syro-Malabar Church, which claims its origin from St. Thomas the Apostle of India.
The biretta, the 14-carat gold ring and the scroll that names the new Cardinal's titular church in Rome are symbols of the new prince of the church who is part of the college of cardinals, which holds the right to vote in case of an election for a new Pope.
The presentation of the biretta with the St. Thomas Cross is the recognition of the plurality of the church, Cardinal Alencherry representing the largest Easter Rite churches among those in communion with Rome. The four-million-strong Syrian Catholic Community completes the larger picture of the Catholic community in India where the Latin and Malankara rites have flourished alongside the Syrian.
Since all cardinals are considered citizens of Rome, they are allotted a titular church and Cardinal Alencherry gets the same church as his predecessor Cardinal Vithayathil — San Bernardo alle Terme, which was built in 1598. The church is entitled to the congregation of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
The large gathering of Syrian Catholics in Diaspora in Rome on Saturday was the affirmation and recognition of the Syrian Christian tradition, stemming from a culture that is deeply rooted in the past.
Cardinal Alencherry follows in the footsteps of his three predecessors but stands out in his being elected by the synod of the Syro-Malabar Church. This was a big change from the past as his predecessor were appointed by Rome. Pope John Paul II had raised the Syro-Malabar Church to an independent status — ‘sui iuris.'