RIP Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo - Death of India's 1st Aboriginal Cardinal Named by Pope John Paul II and Friend of St Mother Teresa

Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, died on October 4th at the age of 84, at the Constant Lievens hospital in Ranchi, capital of the state of Jharkhand, northeastern India.
An ethnic Oraon, he was appointed bishop very young by Paul VI. In 2003 Pope John Paul II made him the first Indian aboriginal cardinal. The encounter with Jesus changed his people and “their strong faith in Jesus Christ continues to liberate, transform, and empower them,” he said. He was friends with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Pope Francis sent a Telegram of Condolences:
Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, Archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, please accept my heartfelt condolences which I extend also to the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the archdiocese. joining you in commending his noble soul to the infinite mercies of god our heavenly father, I recall with immense gratitude the late cardinal’s years of dedicated priestly and episcopal ministry to the local churches of Dumka and Ranchi, as well as his contributions to the wider church in India and to the apostolic see. His service was always marked by zeal for the spread of the gospel, devotion to the holy Eucharist and generous pastoral care of the poor and those in need. to all who mourn Cardinal Toppo’s passing in the sure hope of the resurrection, I cordially impart my blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in the Lord.

He was an ethnic Oraon, member of an aboriginal people also called Kurukh in the Choṭa Nāgpur region in the state of Bihār (just north of Jharkhand). He was also the first Asian prelate of indigenous origin to be appointed cardinal.

At the age of 38, Pope Paul VI appointed him bishop of Dumka on 8 June 1978, while Pope John Paul II elevated him to the rank of cardinal on 28 September 2003 during the consistory of the following 21 October.

At the age of 65, the new cardinal became the tenth Indian in the history of the Church to receive the cardinal's scarlet biretta, the first to head the Archdiocese of Ranchi.

Cardinal Toppo always appreciated foreign missionaries who worked with indigenous communities in Ranchi. The first Catholic priest arrived in the area in 1869, followed a few years later by a Belgian Jesuit, Father Constant Lievens.

"At least a million tribal people in India are now Catholics, conscious of their human dignity and socially accepted," the cardinal liked to say.

Cardinal Toppo also worked on other aspects of Church life, ensuring their development among indigenous peoples, like a congregation of local religious sisters and a seminary.

The latter, he recently said, “has produced in less than 100 years thousands of priests, even more thousands of religious sisters, and innumerable religious brothers and seminarians scattered in many parts of the world."

As archbishop, Cardinal Toppo became the head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India in 2008 during the large-scale anti-Christian violence that broke out in Kandhamal, a district in the state of Odisha (Orissa).

Telesphore Placidus Toppo also shared a deep friendship with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata), which began in 1978 when he was appointed bishop of Dumka. At that time, he wrote a personal note to Mother Teresa inviting her Missionaries of Charity to open a house in his diocese. Mother Teresa responded promptly sending some members of her institute.