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Indian Cardinal Telesphore Toppo Passes Away

Telesphore Placidus Cardinal Toppo

Telesphore Placidus Toppo (84), India’s first tribal cardinal, Archbishop Emeritus of Ranchi, Jharkhand, passed away on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, at 3.45 p.m. at Constant Lievens Hospital, Mandar, Ranchi.

In the last few months, he was bedridden in the same hospital due to age-related illnesses, and funeral details are pending.

After serving as Bishop of Dumka from 1978 to 1984, he became Archbishop of Ranchi from 1985 to 2018.

He served as President of the Catholic Conference of Bishops' Conference (CCBI) twice (2001–2004 and 2011–2013).

From 2004 to 2008, he served as the President of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India (CBCI).

On October 15, 1939, he was born in Jhargaon, a small remote village in Chainpur parish, Gumla district (now a diocese, but at that time part of Ranchi Archdiocese).

He was the eighth child of Mr. Ambrose Toppo and Sophia Xalxo, who had ten children.

The parents were farmers and had difficulty educating their children, so Young Toppo went to school in the village itself for his lower primary schooling.

As a small boy, Toppo walked 3–4 kilometers each way to school from a faraway village, Barwaynagar, as none of the nearby villages had an upper primary school.

Since Toppo was so enthusiastic about studying, his father, a poor farmer, tried to educate him, and after completing his upper primary school, Toppo walked even further to Lievens Barve Boy's secondary school in Chainpur until he graduated.

In those days, the Belgian Jesuit fathers visited his village. In the moment that he saw the Belgian priests, he thought: Why wouldn't he do likewise if they could leave their homes and families, sail across the seven seas, and traverse the impassable forests and ravines to serve and preach the Good News of Jesus?

Until he became a priest, the question kept coming up often in his thoughts and served as his source of motivation. Having been inspired by the lifestyle of the Belgian priests, he joined St. Albert’s Seminary.

He graduated with honors from St. Xavier’s College, Ranchi, and he completed his M.A. in history at the University of Ranchi.

Later, he continued with philosophical studies at St. Albert’s College, Ranchi, and for his theological studies, he was deputed to the Pontifical Urban University, Rome.

He was ordained a priest in Basel, Switzerland, on May 8, 1969.

He returned to India as a young priest and was assigned to teach at St. Joseph’s High School, Torpa, and he soon became the acting principal of the school.

It was in 1976 that he founded the Lievens' Vocation Centre, Torpa, and later became its director, as well as coach to Archbishop Pius Kerketta, the then Archbishop of Ranchi.

On June 8, 1978, he was elected Bishop of Dumka and selected the motto, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

He was ordained Bishop of Dumka on October 7, 1978, by the late Archbishop Pius Kerketta at St. Teresa Girl’s School, Dudhani.

Pope John Paul II nominated him as Coadjutor Archbishop of Ranchi on November 8, 1984, and on August 7, 1985, he was appointed Archbishop of Ranchi and was installed on August 25, 1985.

On October 21, 2003, Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop Toppo to the College of Cardinals, honoring the flourishing and thriving Adivasi Church of Jharkhand. This was the first and only Asian tribal to be given such a distinguished ecclesiastical position.

In April 2005, he was a member of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI, while in March 2013, he was a member of the conclave that elected Pope Francis.

He was also a delegate to the 11th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, The Eucharist: The Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission (October 2005)

Cardinal Toppo, who served on the Holy See Council for the Study of Organizational and Economic Affairs, was appointed by Pope Francis as a Special Envoy to the XI Plenary Assembly of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from November 28 to December 4, 2016.

A polyglot, Toppo spoke Sadri, Oraon (mother tongues), Hindi, English, and Italian.

For his outstanding social work in Jharkhand, Cardinal Toppo was awarded the Jharkhand Ratan Award in 2002. A gifted humanist and observer of the marginalized, Cardinal Toppo was God's chosen instrument for guiding righteous living and religious thinking.

His fondness for the Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and affectionate attachment to Mother Mary are the sources of his committed and inexhaustible personality.

The source and secret of his energy solely lie in the holy sacraments and prayers. Regardless of pressing schedules and severe conditions in life, he never misses the Holy Eucharist, Rosary, or prayers of the Church.

A priest for 54 years, a bishop for 44 years, and a cardinal for 19 years, he had a wide range of roles in the Catholic Church.


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