Thousands from many religious backgrounds are paying their respects to Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Syro-Malabar Church who died of a heart attack on April 1. Bishop Bosco Puthur, who has taken over as administrator of the Oriental Catholic Church, has announced the funeral will be held on April 10 in Kochi, Kerala’s commercial capital. Churches across India offered special prayers for the cardinal during Sunday Mass yesterday. The Catholic Church in Kerala has announced 10 days of official mourning for Cardinal Vithayathil. Condolence meetings were held in all Kerala parishes yesterday. Churches belonging to the Latin and Syro-Malankara Catholic rites in Kerala also flew black flags and postponed celebrations as mark of respect for the cardinal. Long queues of people gathered outside Little Flower Hospital in Angamaly where the cardinal's body lies. His remains will go to St George’s Basilica in Angamaly on April 9 and then taken to the headquarters of Syro-Malabar Church near Kochi. Thousands of people flocked to Lisie Hospital after local television announced the cardinal’s death. Communist Party of India Marxist general secretary Prakash Karat was among the first high-profile figures to reach the hospital. He was in Kerala at the time on an election campaign. Syro-Malabar Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat said ordinary poor people outnumbered priests and nuns among the mourners. “The crowd that came to the hospital shows the cardinal’s popularity among ordinary people,” the priest said. Vijayan Beena, a government official, said she had met the cardinal several times and was surprised at his “genuine concern” for the poor. “He could always think above narrow religious lines,” she said today. P. K. Narayana Panicker, secretary of a Hindu association, said the cardinal had a special love and respect for all religions. “He led the Church without offending anybody,” he added. T. Arifali, a Muslim cleric, said Cardinal Vithayathil was the hope for unity in Kerala’s politically polarized community. IB13851.1648
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