Cardinal Mar George Alencherry joined Pope Benedict XVI and 21 newly-installed fellow cardinals at St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday for a solemn Mass during which the Pope underlined the centrality of the ministry of St. Peter to the Church.
The Pope reminded the new Princes of the Church that they should be zealous pastors, attentive to the flock of Christ as the second reading of the Mass dwelt on the exhortation from St. Peter.
He said that the bronze throne in the Basilica was a constant reminder of the essence of the Church.
“The magisterial chair also reminds us of the words spoken to Peter by the Lord during the Last Supper: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail…,” the Vatican Radio said quoting the Pope's homily.
The feast of the Chair of St. Peter was moved forward to Sunday to coincide with the important occasion, the actual feast day of February 22 being Ash Wednesday.
After the Mass, the Pope joined the waiting faithful in the Angelus and greeted the visitors in several languages, including in English.
He welcomed the larger than usual gathering for the Angelus and spoke to them in English for a while.
He said he welcomed all the English-speaking visitors, especially those who had accompanied their Cardinals to Rome.
On Monday, the Pope will meet the respective delegations, including the relatives of the new Cardinals, who are in Rome.
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 Mar 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 Mar 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 Mar 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 predecessors were appointed by Rome. Pope John Paul II had raised the Syro-Malabar Church to an independent status — ‘sui iuris.'