Indian Church mourns death of Cardinal Dias
By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: The Catholic Church has lost a shepherd of colossal magnitude in the death of Cardinal Ivan Dias, says the head of the Syro-Malabar Church.
Cardinal Dias, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and archbishop of Bombay, died at 8 pm on June 19 in Rome. The 81-year-old prelate was ailing for some time.
“Cardinal Dias has etched his name in the annals of the Church history with his immense contribution to the Vatican curia and the Holy See’s diplomatic circles,” says Cardinal George Alencherry, who heads the larger of the two Oriental rites in India.
He hailed the late cardinal as a devout Catholic and resolute humanitarian whose counsel had benefited even the Popes in leading the Church, Cardinal Alencherry said in his condolence message issued from his base at Kochi, Kerala.
Society of St Paul Father Joe Eruppakkatt, who was Cardinal Dias’s neighbor when he was in Mumbai, recalls the late Church leader for his gentle and charming smile. “His simple yet vibrant presence with a broad smile on his face spread a positive energy around him,” said the priest, who heads the congregation’s publishing house in Nigeria as its general editor.
Father Eruppakkatt, who was earlier the superior of the community in Mumbai, told Matters India that Cardinal Dias was an ardent devotee of the Blessed Mother. “He also promoted Marian devotion among the faithful of Mumbai with great enthusiasm”
As the Bombay archbishop, Cardinal Dias brought a special portrait of “Mary of Nazareth” to Mumbai. “Mother Mary’s entry was celebrated with elaborate programs covering the entire archdiocese,” the priest recalled.
The cardinal also took great interest in the renewal of the clergy of Mumbai. “He was gentle, yet firm in dealing with his priests. He also took great interest in the welfare of the retired priests. He undertook with much care the complete renovation of the Clergy Home in Bandra, which today stands tall facing the Arabian Sea, having all the facilities for the infirm and retired clergy of Bombay Archdiocese,” Father Eruppakkatt added.
John Dayal, a prominent lay leader, recalled that Cardinal Dias was an archbishop in India when the country underwent “great political transition” that saw the Bharatiya Janata Party emerge as a political power in the country.
Dayal told Matters India that although he had not known Cardinal Dias “intimately” he had studied the impact the prelate had in the Church and in India during the three phases of his life – ambassador to some frontier areas for the Faith, an archbishop in India and as the prefect of the congregation of the faith. He said the cardinal’s retirement as the head of the second highest Vatican office was “a fitting finale for a career that focused so much on the third world.”
“It is no mere coincidence that Pope John Paul II’s Ecclasia in Asia was published in this phase heralding Asia as the place of the Church in the third millennia.”
About Cardinal Dias’ chances of becoming the Pope, Dayal said “Perhaps not in the knowledge of hindsight, but he would have done us proud if indeed he had been elected.”
Dayal, a former president of the All India Catholic Union, the largest lay association in the country, says Cardinal Dias did “as much as he could.”
“India, the Far East and Africa, which he knew well, will remember him with gratitude. His is a tough act to follow for India’s senior hierarchy. For the younger priests, he will remain an immortal role model,” Dayal added.
Father Anthony Charanghat, who edited Bombay archdiocesan weekly, The Examiner, recalled that Cardinal Dias had undertaken various international assignments and admired Mother Teresa. “She held him in high regard as well. I travelled with him to Italy and saw the immense regard people held for his firm, no-nonsense ways,” the Bombay archdiocesan priest told The Times of India.
Gordon D’Souza of the Bombay Catholic Sabha (council) said, “Cardinal Dias’ vibrancy still resonates in the archdiocese. He was in close touch with the laity and worked hand in hand with lay organizations like ours.”