Indian Catholic News

Thousands mourn loss of missionary archbishop

Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara remembered for his work among indigenous people.

Clergy attend the funeral of Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara on April 23. The popular missionary bishop died of cardiac arrest on April 19. (Photo supplied by Nagpur Archdiocese)

Thousands of people attended the April 23 funeral service of an archbishop highly regarded for his work among indigenous communities in central India.

At least 5,000 people attended the funeral for Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara of Nagpur at Francis de Sales Cathedral in the city of Nagpur in western Maharashtra state on April 23.

Archbishop Viruthakulangara died of a cardiac arrest while asleep on April 19. He was in New Delhi at the time to attend a meeting of regional bishops. He was 74 years of age.

Two cardinals and more than 50 bishops — mostly from Hindi-speaking dioceses — attended the funeral service of the prelate who was ordained as a bishop at the age of 34 in 1977.

Archdiocesan spokesperson Father Lijo Thomas said Archbishop Viruthakulangara was popular and well regarded for his work with indigenous people. The archbishop was also the head of the bishops' youth commission for many years, said Father Thomas.

In 1977, Archbishop Viruthakulangara became the first bishop of Khandwa Diocese, an area of indigenous people in central Madhya Pradesh state. After 20 years of service, he was transferred to be the archbishop of Nagpur in 1998.

Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church who led the funeral service, said Archbishop Viruthakulangara was "a precious gift to the church in India."

"He travelled a lot to be with ordinary people in the villages. He loved to be with people. He rejoiced with those who rejoice and wept with those that weep," Cardinal Cleemis said while recalling the archbishop's penchant to be with village people.

Many of those at the funeral from Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh — where he served as a priest and later as bishop — remembered him for his simplicity.

"He had a special love for the needy and was always there to help poor irrespective of caste, creed or color," said Munish Mishra, a Hindu medical doctor.

Khandwa Diocesan priest Joy Prappally, 71, said the late prelate worked among the Barela indigenous community and developed "a special love to work" for indigenous and disadvantaged people.

Archbishop Viruthakulangara also opened schools and offered scholarships to promote education among indigenous people.

"We have lost a loving father," said Jayanti Kanade of Aulia parish in Khandwa Diocese. The 57-year-old housewife credits her three children's education to the archbishop.

"He visited our home and encouraged us to send our children to school. He even arranged funds for their education as he knew we could not manage it on our own," she told

Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, said in his homily that Archbishop Viruthakulangara "won the hearts of people from all walks of life such as religious, social and political."

Source: UCAN

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