On October 4, 2023, India and the global Catholic community mourned the passing of a remarkable religious leader, Telesphore Placidus Toppo. Born on October 15, 1939, in Chainpur, Bihar (now in Jharkhand), Toppo’s life was a testament to faith, service, and cultural diversity.
A Journey of Faith
Telesphore Toppo hailed from the indigenous tribal Adivasi community, a testament to his deep connection to his roots. He embarked on a path of religious service, starting with his ordination as a priest on May 3, 1969, under the guidance of Bishop Franz von Streng.
His journey of faith took him to various roles, including Headmaster of St. Joseph’s School and Director of the Lievens Vocational Center in Torpa, Jharkhand. In recognition of his dedication, Toppo was appointed as the Bishop of Dumka on October 7, 1978.
Archbishop and Cardinal
Toppo’s service continued to expand, and on November 8, 1984, he was named the Coadjutor Archbishop of Ranchi. He assumed the position of Archbishop of Ranchi on August 7, 1985, becoming a guiding light for the Catholic community in Jharkhand.
In a historic moment for India and its tribal population, Toppo was elevated to the rank of cardinal-priest by Pope John Paul II on October 21, 2003. This made him the third cardinal from India, the first Adivasi cardinal, and the first tribal Indian to receive such an honor. Toppo saw this title as recognition of the growth and distinction of the tribal Church in India.
Leadership and Influence
Telesphore Toppo’s influence extended beyond the borders of India. He was an elector at the 2005 papal conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI and participated in the 2013 papal conclave that selected Pope Francis.
Toppo’s leadership roles within the Catholic Church were numerous. He served two terms as the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in 2004 and 2006. Additionally, he led the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, comprising Latin Rite bishops, from 2001 to 2004 and from 2011 to 2013.
Advocate for Unity
Telesphore Toppo advocated for ecumenical efforts and sought unity among Christian denominations. At the Synod of Bishops in 2008, he emphasized the importance of preserving the truth while pursuing unity. He also called for an agreement on a common date for the celebration of Easter.
Legacy of Faith
Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo’s legacy is one of unwavering faith, cultural pride, and dedication to the service of God and his community. His contributions to the Catholic Church in India and his leadership on the global stage will be remembered and celebrated by people of all faiths.
As we commemorate his life and mourn his passing, we are reminded of the profound impact that individuals like Toppo have on the world, bridging cultures and bringing people together in the spirit of faith and unity. Cardinal Toppo’s memory will continue to inspire generations to come.