Nagpur archbishop dies of heart attack in New Delhi
By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur died of a massive heart attack in the early hours of April 19 in New Delhi.
“With deep sorrow and sadness I have to inform you that Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara passed away of a massive heart attack in New Delhi in the early hours of the morning today. Let us pray that God rewards him abundantly for his dedicated services to God and his people on this earth,” says a message from the Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) on April 19.
The 74-year-old archbishop was attending a meeting at the CBCI headquarters in the national capital. He had joined 30 other prelates at a candlelight prayer meeting in memory of an 8-year-old rape victim held in front of gate of adjoining Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Another message from Father Jerome Pinto, vicar general of the archdiocese of Nagpur expresses “great regret” in the “sudden demise of our beloved” archbishop. “Further details will be informed soon,” the priest says.
Archbishop Viruthakulangara was a prelate for the past 42 years. He was known for his zeal for the mission that had led him from Kerala in southern India to remote tribal villages of central Indian region.
“I wanted to proclaim the Gospel to the people who had not yet heard about Christ. Even today the same zeal burns me,” the prelate had told priests, nuns and lay people who on July 13 attended the ruby jubilee of his ordination as a bishop.
Reminding the priests and religious that they are called to serve the same mission, the archbishop had cautioned them not to lose their goal. “When our missionary activities do not have this aim, they become mere social work, and we become just social workers,” he added.
He was only 34 in 1977 when he was appointed the first bishop of Khandwa, a predominantly tribal diocese in Madhya Pradesh, central India.
He was the 100th Indian Catholic bishop since the hierarchy was established in the country in 1986.
Father Lijo Mampoothara, public relations officer of the archdiocese, then applauded Archbishop Viruthakulangara for bringing unity among various religions in Nagpur and surroundings areas.
Nagpur is the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteers corps), the umbrella organization for Hindu rightwing groups. The National Council of Churches in India, the association of Protestant Orthodox Churches in the country, also has its base in the city.
The prelate was born on June 5, 1943, in Kuruppunthara, a village in Kottayam district of Kerala. After his ordination in 1969, he worked among Gond tribal people for eight years until his appointment as a bishop. During his 20 years in Khandwa he had helped local Christians to bond with their Hindu and Muslim neighbors, Fr Mampoothara recalled.
The young prelate’s proficiency in the tribal language helped him reach out to thousands and transform their lives. Mother Teresa, who visited Khandwa in those days, commended his zeal and commitment to the tribal mission.
He was appointed the Archbishop of Nagpur on April 22, 1998, with the motto “Radiating Christ.”