Syrian Christian leader in Delhi

Thousands of people lined up the streets in the national capital to welcome the supreme leader of the Syrian Orthodox Church, Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka-I Iwas, who arrived here last evening.

The religious leader of Syrian Christians was accorded a public reception last evening at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium where he arrived in a procession. He will attend a special mass today at the St Peter's Cathedral at the Bhai Veer Singh Marg near Gol Dak Khana.

The 71-year-old patriarch of the Universal Syrian Orthodox Church will meet President A P J Abdul Kalam, Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi during his three-day stay in the capital.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Opposition leader L K Advani and Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit will also meet the Syrian Christian leader, according to Delhi Archdiocese Bishop-designate Ekbi Chacko.

Tomorrow, he will pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi at the Raj Ghat and plant a sapling. A press conference will be his last programme in the capital before he leaves for Damascus on Friday. Eleven Cardinal Bishops from Syria are accompanying the religious leader, who arrived here after a long visit to Kerala.

Born on April 21, 1933 in Mosul, Iraq, His Holiness Zakka1 Iwas became the supreme head of the Syrian Orthodox Christian Church in September 1980. Two years later, he visited Kerala. He again came in 2000 to attend the Episcopal Jubilee celebrations of Bishop Mor Clemis Abraham. His first visit to India was in 1964.

There are about five million Syrian Christians in India, most of them in Kerala, and an equal number of parishioners elsewhere in the world. Syrian Christians are the first Christians to migrate to India. The community traces its origin in Kerala to the arrival of St Thomas, the Apostle, in Kerala in AD 52.