Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong died in California on Oct. 11. (Photo courtesy of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India)
India’s prime minister and church leaders are mourning the sudden death of Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong in a car accident in the United States.
Archbishop Jala, 68, and Father Mathew Vellankal were travelling to Clearlake in California on Oct. 11 when their Toyota Prius car collided with a semi-truck in Colussa County. They died on the spot and a third Indian priest, Father Joseph Parekatt, was seriously injured.
In a message on Facebook, California Highway Patrol reported that the Toyota Prius may have been at fault as it had "failed to yield to traffic." Archbishop Jala and Father Vellankal were in the driver and front seats and Father Parekatt was in the back. It is unclear who was driving the car.
Condolences have poured in from cross-sections of Indian society including PM Narendra Modi.
“He will be remembered for his impeccable service to society and passion towards Meghalaya’s progress. May his soul rest in peace,” Modi tweeted on Oct. 14.
Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati told ucanews that the archbishop’s death “is a great loss not only to me but all the bishops as well as all the people from the northeast because the archbishop was very pious and popular among all. Very intellectual and dear to all as his simplicity used to bring all people to him.”
Archbishop Moolachira, president of the North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC), added: “We are grieved at his departure but at the moment of pain we turn to the priests, religious and faithful of the Archdiocese of Shillong who mourn their beloved archbishop. We offer them our heartfelt condolences.”
Father Felix Anthony, spokesman for the Catholic Church in northeast India, told ucanews: “It is really sad news for all of us to learn that our beloved archbishop passed away far away from his homeland, far away from us. We are awaiting return of his mortal remains, which will take around 4-5 days, and after that we can arrange for the date and time of the funeral.
“We urge everyone of you to pray for us, to pray for our archdiocese and especially to pray for the soul of the archbishop.
“He was a well-appreciated archbishop known for his simplicity, scholarship and intellectual acumen. He had very good rapport with other faiths as well as with all political leaders irrespective of any political party.”
Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said the archbishop’s sudden death was a sad day for the state.
“He had a close relationship with my family and had always guided me on several issues for the interest of the people. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” he said.
Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio tweeted: “Saddened to hear the passing away of Most Rev. Dominic Jala, archbishop of Shillong, Meghalaya. A personality of faith who dedicated his life to the message of the Gospel, his death is a loss to the Church. Condolences to the clergy, religious & laity of the archdiocese of Shillong.”
Archbishop Jala was born on July 12, 1951, at Mawlai in the Archdiocese of Shillong. He was appointed archbishop of the diocese in December 1999. After the transfer of Bishop Victor Lyngdoh to Jowai Diocese in 2017, Archbishop Jala was also appointed apostolic administrator to Nongstoin Diocese.
Before being appointed archbishop, he was the provincial of the Salesians of Don Bosco of Guwahati Province. He was involved in all matters connected with the Church in northeast India and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). From 2012 to last month, he was chairman of the NEIRBC. He was also chairman of the Liturgical Commission of the CBCI for several years.
Father Vellankal had been pastor of St. Isidore Parish in California since 2016. He was a native of Kerala and was ordained a priest in 1987.