(Présence-info) History is in the making for the Syriac Catholic faithful of Canada, who officially have a new bishop as well as an entirely new diocese.
At the end of the day on Saturday, the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, Ignace Joseph III Younan, presided at the celebration of Bishop Antoine Nassif's inauguration as the first Apostolic Exarch (Bishop) of the Syriac Exarchate of Canada.
At the end of the ceremony, which lasted almost two hours, Most Reverend Nassif, 49 years of age, stated the he will lead into the future this "new Exarchate with love, understanding, and harmony toward all the clerical and lay components" of society.
The celebration took place at Saint-Éphrem Church, in Laval. This parish was part of the Our Lady of Deliverance Eparchy, to which, up until recently, all the Syriac Catholics in Canada and in the United States belonged.
On January 7, however, Pope Francis announced that the territory of the new Canadian Exarchate would become distinct from that of the Eparchy of Newark, in New Jersey. On that same day, he appointed Antoine Nassif, Rector of the Patriarchal Seminary of Charfet, in Lebanon, the new bishop in Canada. Most Reverend Nassif was proposed as candidate by the synod of bishops of the Syriac Catholic Church. His episcopal ordination took place at the end of January in Beirut.
The Argentine Cardinal, Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, wrote to the new bishop in a letter, which was read on Saturday: "Today, the Church is sending you on mission in this country to join the Syriac Catholic faithful and create the structures capable of supporting evangelization. The work that is requested of you is of the pioneering kind." He invited Bishop Nassif to "comfort all those who are suffering from the perils of this life" and to "ceaselessly proclaim the wonders of God to humanity, which has forgotten how to discern him."
"I am pleased by this extension of the Antioch Church of the Syriac Catholics, aimed at reaching the diaspora communities better," he added, asking the faithful of Canada to "support the pastoral zeal" of the new Exarch, to introduce him "to a new culture," and to "guide him in the numerous tasks" he will have to carry out in the building of this diocese.
The new Exarchate of Canada for Syriac Catholics includes five parishes and missions and a population reaching almost 20,000 faithful. The Syriac Catholic community has been present in Canada since 1976. The founder and leader of this community in the Montreal region, Bishop Pierre Melki, is today the Patriarchal Exarch of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Syriac Catholic Church has approximately 180,000 members throughout the world, namely in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Before blessing the assembly, Bishop Antoine Nassif said, "I would like to thank everyone who participated in this ceremony and who accompany me with their prayers."
Sitting in the church's front pews on Saturday, were Stéphane Dion, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eva Nassif, Member of the Canadian Parliament for the riding of Vimy (Laval), and Alan DeSousa, Mayor of Saint-Laurent. Archbishop Christian Lépine (Montreal) and Auxiliary Bishop Gaétan Proulx (Quebec) represented the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at the new Exarch's inauguration ceremony. Bishop Nassif is now a member of the CCCB.
In the new bishop's coat of arms, there is a harp, recalling the musical tradition of the Syriac Church, a cedar for the Lebanese origins of Bishop Antoine Nassif, and a maple leaf designating Canada. The new Exarch speaks Syriac, Arabic, Italian, English, and French.
During Bishop Nassif's inauguration ceremony, Canada reached its goal of welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees, as per Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election promise.
On the same day, a ceasefire came into place in Syria, and Stéphane Dion declared, "Although it is fragile, this cessation of hostilities is an important step toward establishing a lasting and necessary political solution to put an end to the bloodshed in Syria."