Thousands mourn passing of Telesphore P. Toppo, Asia’s first tribal cardinal and a  trailblazing leader

(Photo: YouTube Screenshot/Ranchi Archdiocese)

In a moving ceremony infused with reverence and solemnity, Asia's first tribal cardinal, Telesphore P. Toppo, was laid to rest with full state honour at the revered St Mary's Cathedral on October 11. The 113-year-old cathedral in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, served as the backdrop for a farewell that resonated with both spiritual and civic significance. 

The funeral, graced by the presence of Governor CP Radhakrishnan and Chief Minister Hemant Soren, bore witness to a display of respect as both dignitaries laid floral wreaths on the mortal remains of the late cardinal. Cabinet members and legislators joined in, placing white floral wreaths on the coffin, already adorned with India's national flag. The ceremonial gun salute by the police underscored the sombre moment. 

Cardinal Toppo, celebrated for his remarkable contributions, had breathed his last at the Constant Livens Hospital & Research Centre in Mandar on October 4 at 3:55 pm. 

His body was placed at the cathedral to give an opportunity to the faithful to offer their homage to the Cardinal on October 10 and 11. Thousands, representing diverse walks of life, formed a human chain to traverse the approximately 30 km distance, showering flowers on the hearse as a final tribute to the late cardinal. 

The requiem three-hour-long Mass, led by 27 bishops and attended by thousands, unfolded at the cathedral, emphasising the cardinal's profound impact on the community. A collective outpouring of grief and remembrance marked the occasion. 

The funeral Mass took place at Loyola Ground, Ranchi, drawing a multitude of mourners who came together to bid a heartfelt farewell to the departed cardinal. Following this poignant ceremony, Cardinal Toppo's mortal remains were laid to rest in a burial ceremony at St. Mary's Cathedral Ranchi, near the feet of the Mother Teresa statue—an iconic moment marking the end of an era. 

It conservatively estimated that 60,000 participants, including over 600 priests, nearly three thousand Religious members, and distinguished dignitaries, attended the funeral. This figure does not encompass the thousands who endured the scorching sun for over four hours during the procession from Mandar to Ranchi for the body's final transport. Furthermore, many patiently waited in long lines on the evening of the 10th and the morning of the 11th, hoping to pay their respects to the Cardinal at the Cathedral. 

The funeral service was also livestreamed where more than 150,000 participated in the service across the country. Thousands more tuned in to the televised broadcast of the ceremony, reflecting the widespread impact of the prelate’s life and teachings. 

Cardinal Toppo, born in the small remote village of Jhargaon in Gumla district, emerged from an Oraon tribal family of eight children. Ordained as a priest in 1969, he was appointed Bishop of Dumka Diocese in 1978, followed by his elevation as Archbishop of Ranchi in 1985—a position he held for an impressive 35 years (1985-2018). Notably, he was the first Adivasi and tribal Indian cardinal, bestowed with the cardinal-priest title by Pope John Paul II on October 21, 2003. 

Among his significant contributions was his fervent support for the creation of the Jharkhand state. Cardinal Toppo's legacy is further underscored by his oversight of the installation of two dozen tribal bishops since assuming the role of Archbishop of Ranchi in 1985. 

As the news of Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo's passing reverberates, his enduring legacy is sure to live on in the hearts and minds of those he touched throughout his esteemed life.