India’s First Tribal Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo Dies at 84

He was the Bishop of Dumka (1978-1984) and Archbishop of Ranchi (1985-2018).


Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, India’s first tribal cardinal, died at a hospital here on Wednesday after prolonged illness.He was 84. He was suffering from old age-related ailments and was admitted to the hospital on Tuesday. He died at the medical establishment on Wednesday afternoon.

In a statement, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) said, “He was a priest for 54 years, a bishop for 44 years and a cardinal for 19 years.”

Governor CP Radhakrishnan wrote on X, formerly Twitter: “The news of the demise of Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo is extremely sad and painful. Humble tributes to him. My deepest condolences to his loved ones.”

Chief Minister Hemant Soren also condoled his death.

Taking to X, Mr Soren said, “Very sad news was received about the demise of religious leader Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo. While service the people, Cardinal Telesphore was always alert for their rights. May God grant peace to the departed soul and give strength to the bereaved people to bear this difficult time of grief.”

Toppo had resigned under the Canon law as the Bishop which was announced by Pope Francis in Rome in June, 2018.

Under Canon Law, an Archbishop can serve till he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal Toppo had been the Archbishop of Ranchi for 35 years.

He was the Bishop of Dumka (1978-1984) and Archbishop of Ranchi (1985-2018).

Born on October 15, 1939 at Jhargaon, a small remote village in Gumla district, Toppo was ordained a priest by Bishop Franciskus 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 in Torpa.

On November 8, 1984, he was nominated by Pope John Paul II as the Coadjutor Archbishop of Ranchi. He was appointed as the Archbishop of Ranchi on August 7, 1985. The installation as Archbishop took place on August 25, 1985.

“Pope St. John Paul II honoured the thriving and blossoming Adivasi Church of Jharkhand by raising Archbishop Telesphore Toppo to the College of Cardinals on October 21, 2003. He was the first and only Asian tribal to have been accorded such a distinguished ecclesiastical office. He participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI and in the conclave of March 2013, which elected Pope Francis,” the CCBI statement said. 

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