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Church mourns death of New Delhi's Syro-Malankara bishop

The fifth Indian bishop to succumb to Covid-19, Bishop Barnabas will be remembered for serving the poor on the streets

Church mourns death of New Delhi's Syro-Malankara bishop

Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas of Gurgaon, India. (Photo supplied)

The Indian Church is mourning the death of Bishop Jacob Mar Barnabas, who passed away at a private hospital in New Delhi on Aug. 26. He was 60.

The Eastern-rite Syro-Malankara Catholic bishop was undergoing treatment for post-Covid-19 complications at the capital’s Fortis Hospital.

He is the fifth prelate in the country to succumb to Covid-19 and its complications.

“The bishop had contracted Covid-19 in April and was admitted to Holy Family Hospital run by the Archdiocese of Delhi. He had recovered but was feeling weak,” James Mathew, president of the priest forum of Gurgaon Diocese, told UCA News.

He was admitted to Fortis Hospital in the first week of August for more intensive medical treatment.

Mathew said the “bishop’s demise has left a deep void in the diocese that will take years to fill. At the moment I have no words to express my feelings.”

His good nature, love for the poor and devotion to the Church's mission were fondly remembered by all

Bishop Barnabas was appointed in 2007 as the first bishop of the Syro-Malankara Eparchy of St. John Chrysostom of Gurgaon. The diocese based in Delhi's Gurgaon area covers a vast area of northern and northeastern India.

The bishop, known for his simplicity and hard work, served the poor on the streets of his eparchy since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in India in March 2020.

Priests and laypeople who knew him and his work remembered him as “a real missionary” who led the distribution of food and hygiene kits among the poor affected by Covid-19. His good nature, love for the poor and devotion to the Church's mission were fondly remembered by all.

Jacob Barnabas was born on Dec. 3, 1960, at Karikulam, Ranni, Pathanamthitta, in central Kerala state. He was the eldest among three brothers and five sisters. Three of his sisters are nuns in the Congregation of the Sisters of the Imitation of Christ, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) said in a press statement.

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He joined the Order of the Imitation of Christ in 1975 and was ordained a priest on Oct. 2, 1986. He was in charge of religious formation for pre-novices and was later sent to Academia Alfonsiana in Rome to pursue higher studies in moral theology.

On Feb. 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI appointed him as apostolic visitator with an episcopal character for the Malankara community in the extra-territorial regions of India and as titular bishop of Bapara.

He was ordained a bishop by Major Archbishop Moran Mor Baselios Cleemis Catholicos on March 10, 2007, at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Pattom, Thiruvananthapuram.

Pope Francis later erected a new diocese for Syro-Malankara faithful comprising 22 states, and Bishop Barnabas was appointed as the first bishop of Gurgaon.

The inauguration of the diocese was held on May 1, 2015, at St. Mary’s Cathedral Church.

He was committed to the poor and marginalized of his diocese in the rural area

Bishop Barnabas served as a priest for 34 years and as a bishop for 14 years.

“Bishop Barnabas was a soft-spoken, kind person who led a simple life. He was committed to the poor and marginalized of his diocese in the rural area,” human rights activist A.C. Michael told UCA News.

He recalled how the prelate cooked for and fed the homeless and migrant workers during the lockdown. “When told he was risking his health, he would say, ‘I know I can succumb to Covid-19 but never will I abandon my duty to God and my ministry to the people.’” Michael said.

Other Indian bishops who succumbed to Covid-19 include Bishop Paul Alois Lakra of Gumla, Bishop Basil Bhuria of Jhabua, retired Bishop Joseph Pastor Neelankavil of Sagar and Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry-Cuddalore.

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