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'India had an admirer in Pope'

Last updated on: April 04, 2005 12:53 IST
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Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese is one of the three serving Indian cardinals who have the voting rights to elect the successor to Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday.

The Kerala-based Cardinal Vithayathil is the head of the Syro-Malabar Church that accounts for some 3.5 million of India's 16 million Catholics.

Last year, Cardinal Vithayathil's controversial comments that bishops in the country are forced 'to run to Rome for everything' and that there is an urgent need 'to decentralise the papal authority' had kicked off a debate in the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church in India comprises the Latin, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara rites. The Latin church follows the Roman liturgy, introduced by European missionaries in the 15th century, while the other two, both based in Kerala and whose origins are traced to Saint Thomas the Apostle, follow Oriental liturgies and customs.

Hours before he left for Vatican to attend the funeral of Pope and to participate in the election process of the new Roman Catholic pontiff, Cardinal Vithayathil spoke to Deputy Managing Editor George Iype.

The papacy is in transition now. What do you expect in the next few days?

The College of Cardinals will first meet and decide on the funeral process of our Holy Father. Soon after that, they will meet to elect a new Pope. The whole process will be over in 20 days.

You have the voting rights to elect the new Pope. You are going to exercise this right for the first time. How are you preparing for this historical occasion?

Yes, this is a great moment in the history of the church. Pope John Paul II was the voice of the voiceless, the freedom fighter, the peace advocate and the human rights guardian in the world.

He was the spiritual king of the universal church. We are certain that the successor to this great Pope will also be an equally qualified and efficient champion of the people across the globe.

I am excited that I am also going to participate in the election process of the new Pope. I have spiritually prepared myself for this great event.

Has any papal candidate emerged in the church circles?

Church rules do not stipulate that a papal candidate should be a cardinal. He needs to be a person of good Catholic faith. But generally, the Pope is being elected from the Cardinals around the world.

Media is talking about various names, but no one knows who will be finally elected.

Will an Indian be the next Pope?

An Indian being appointed as the next Pope is as much a possibility as any other cardinal from other parts of the world assuming the papacy.

There have been recent reports that an Indian cardinal - may be Cardinal Ivan Dias of the Mumbai Archdiocese - could be a potential papal candidate?

I tell you again that an Asian, or an Indian, being appointed the next Pope is as much a possibility as cardinals from other parts being appointed. There are 117 cardinals who have voting rights to elect the Pope. Eleven of them are from Asia and 11 from Africa.

But I tell you a cardinal is not elected as a Pope based on the origin of his country or geography. There is no political or geographical involvement in the election of a new pope. The qualification needed to become a Pope is the ability to uphold core human values and the well laid out principles of the Catholic Church.

What are your expectations from the new Pope?

I feel the new Pope will take initiatives to modify the canon law to decentralise the Pope's authority so that the local bishops' conferences can be empowered. Decentralisation of the papal authority is necessary.

There needs to be greater collegiality and consultation among bishops and priests regarding church matters.

How do you assess the contributions of Pope John Paul II?

Pope John Paul II was the voice of global consciousness. The world looked to him whenever it faced issues concerning global peace and human rights. He was truly a global citizen.

His death is not just a loss to the Catholics, but to the entire humanity. The Pope was dear to us always because he was the first Pope to visit Kerala. He helped us to add a new chapter in the Indian church history.

You have interacted with Pope John Paul II many times. What are your personal experiences?

I consider it a great privilege that I have met him and dined with him a number of times. The Pope always had only good words to tell about India.

He loved India. He loved the growth of the Church and the sterling missionary works, especially in the fields of education and healthcare, of church institutions in India. Whenever I met him, he would ask me about India.

When he last visited India in 1999, I had the privilege of travelling with him in his plane from Rome to New Delhi. In Pope's death, India has lost an admirer of the country.


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