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Thousands join Cardinal Toppo's funeral in eastern India

Thousands, cutting across religious lines, participated in the funeral service in Ranchi archdiocese
 Funeral service of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo in progress at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ranchi archdiocese on Oct. 11

Funeral service of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo in progress at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Ranchi archdiocese on Oct. 11. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: October 12, 2023 11:13 AM GMT
Updated: October 13, 2023 04:07 AM GMT

Some 30,000 Catholics joined the funeral service of Asia's first cardinal from the tribal community, Telesphore Placidus Toppo, when he was buried with state honors in eastern India on Oct. 11.

The 84-year-old Cardinal Toppo died on Oct. 4 at the Church-run Father Constant Leavens Hospital and Research Centre in his home state of Jharkhand due to age-related illness.

More than 50,000 people from all walks of life paid their last respects, including state Governor C. P. Radhakrishnan and Chief Minister Hemant Soren, said Father Nicholas Barla, secretary of the Indian bishops'  office for tribal affairs.

Church officials said an estimated 30,000 people attended the funeral ceremonies at a college ground in Ranchi Archdiocese, based in the state capital.

“The crowd, irrespective of their caste, creed, and religion, showed that he was the ‘people’s cardinal’ who broke all barriers,” Barla told UCA News on Oct. 12.

Toppo was known as the “people’s cardinal” because of his enthusiasm to get involved in the issues of ordinary tribal people aiming to help them, Barla said.

His memory “will be cherished” for a long time, observed Barla, who was associated with the cardinal for several years.

The funeral Mass was led by Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and was attended by over 27 bishops, 500 priests, and thousands of nuns. 

The body was brought to Ranchi from the hospital on Oct. 10 to allow people to pay their last respects.

The body was wrapped with the national flag and the state police offered a ceremonial gun salute before the funeral.

Chief Minister Soren and members of his cabinet and legislators laid white floral wreaths on the coffin.

Toppo, who got the biretta in 2003, was the first cardinal from the Indian tribal community to become a member of the College of Cardinals of the Holy See.

He attended two conclaves that elected Pope Benedict in 2005 and Pope Francis in 2013.

Toppo became Ranchi archbishop in 1984 and continued in the post until his resignation in 2018. A polyglot, Toppo spoke Sadri, Oraon (mother tongues), Hindi, English and Italian.

“The cardinal made it sure that people may grow spiritually but at the same time they may excel in education and other fields,” Barla, from the Oran tribal community, said.

Ratan Tirkey, a former member of the tribal advisory committee of the Jharkhand government, told UCA News that Toppo "was the father figure and was called ‘Baba’ [father] by all.”

He encouraged inter-religious talks and set up an inter-religious forum to encourage religious collaboration.

“The cardinal not only broke the wall of differences among other religions but walked all the way to make sure that all people may live harmoniously,” said Tirkey, a Catholic leader from a tribal community in Jharkhand.

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He served Mother India and her citizens with dedication and distinction. Respectful farewell to His Eminence Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo Ji.
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