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Four Kerala MLAs to pay last respects in Lebanon to Syrian Church head

Posted on Mar 24 2014 | IANS

Thiruvananthapuram, March 24 : With an eye on Kerala's significant Jacobite votebank, four legislators and a former bureaucrat will visit Lebanon to pay their last respects to Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka-I, the influential head of the Syrian Orthodox Church who died in Germany last week and will be intered in Damascus.

The delegation will, however, not travel to the Syrian capital due to the uncertain law and order situation there. The Syrian Orthodox Church is popularly known as the Jacobite Church in Kerala.

The government-sponsored visit is being seen as a masterstroke by the Oommen Chandy government, considering the socio-political influence which the Jacobite congregation wields in the state.

Moran Mar Ignatius Zakka-I, also the Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, passed away last week in Germany. His body will be brought to Lebanon Monday before being interred in Damascus.

The patriach had visited Kerala on four occasions.

A Kerala delegation comprises Food and Civil Supplies Minister Anup Jacob, T.U. Kuruvilla and Benny Behanan of the ruling UDF, Saju Paul of the CPI-M and former additional chief secretary D. Babu Paul.

Saju Paul said he would represent Leader of Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan.

"We will return from Lebanon after paying our last respects and will not be going to Damascus," Paul told IANS.

All the delegation members belong to the Jacobite Church, which has a following of over one million here.

The 81-year-old patriach was the 122nd head of the Syrian Orthodox Church.

The church has a strong base in the central districts of Kerala. Its rivalry with the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church of India is more than a century old.

The bitter dispute between the two congregations has led to the closure of many churches. Physical confrontation between members of the two factions over the years has given sleepless nights to successive governments.

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