Church and political leaders in India have mourned the death of Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church. The Redemptorist prelate, who led the Oriental Catholic Church for the past 12 years, was suffering from heart ailments for some time. He fell unconscious while celebrating Mass around noon today and was rushed to nearby Lisie Hospital in Kochi, where he died around 2:30 pm. He was 84. The funeral is scheduled after April 10 as most Syro-Malabar bishops are away in Rome for the Ad Limina visit. Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), hailed Cardinal Vithayathil as a “great missionary and exemplary priest, who contributed a lot for the growth of the Church in India and the Syro-Malabar Church.” Cardinal Gracias, who heads the Indian Catholic Church, said he had visited the deceased cardinal three times after he fell seriously ill. “He was a man of deep faith who was loyal to the Church. He worked strenuously for the good of the Church even in his illness,” said Cardinal Gracias, archbishop of Bombay. Cardinal Gracias also said he had worked closely with Cardinal Vithayathil as the CBCI office bearers and found him “an effective administrator who took bold decisions for the good of the Church in India.” Major Archbishop Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, said Cardinal Vithayathil worked for bringing unity among India’s three ritual Churches. The deceased cardinal provided “a mature leadership” to the Indian Church when he was the CBCI president during 2008-2010. He also played an active role in public issues of Kerala. Cardinal Vithayathil, who was also the archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese, was ordained a priest in 1954. He taught for 25 years at the Redemptorist seminary in Bangalore, southern India. He also taught different subjects in several other seminaries in that city. He was elected provincial of Redemptorists in India and Sri Lanka in 1978, a post he held for six years. He was also the president of the Conference of Religious India, the national body of India’s Religious Major Superiors. Pope John Paul II made him a cardinal in 2001. National leaders cutting across political parties paid homage to the deceased cardinal. Congress president Sonia Gandhi hailed him for promoting communal harmony and the peace in the country. Federal Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the cardinal tried to help the poor and believed in social justice. Marxist leader Pinarayi Vijayan said Cardinal Vithayathil never opted for confrontation. “He always believed in consensus. He was a role model for all of us.” IA13836.1647
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