Thousands bid farewell to Archbishop Viruthakulangara
By Lijo Thomas Nagpur: Thousands of people on April 23 braved debilitating summer heat to attend the funeral of Archbishop Abraham Viruthakulangara in Nagpur. Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, led the funeral Mass at St Francis de Sales Cathedral in Nagpur while Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malankara Church, preached the homily. They were assisted by eight archbishops and 30 bishops, besides scores of priests. The Apostolic Nunciature in New Delhi was represented by Monsignor Javier Fernandez. Father Albert D’Souza of Nagpur archdiocese read out the obituary while Divine Word Bishop Arokia Sebastian Durairja of Khandwa read the Gospel during the Mass. Cardinal Alencherry delivered the homily. A select few religious dignitaries supervised the burial in a grave dug right in front of cathedral altar while others watched the proceedings on two digital display screens kept inside a massive tent erected inside the cathedral compound. Earlier, several priests and laymen carried the coffin of the late archbishop from the Archbishop’s House to nearby St Francis de Sales Cathedral in a procession for the funeral services. Archbishop Filipe Neri of Goa hailed the late archbishop as among the few prelates who lived up to the motto he had chosen when he became a shepherd of the Church. He did radiate the light of Christ in so many and beautiful ways, he added. Condolence message included one from Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit’s message that was read out by Alice Joe Paul. Purohit was a close friend of Archbishop Viruthakulangara for many years. He commended the archbishop’s efforts in bringing together people across cultures and faiths. He ended the message saying he would always miss his friend, “a darling of all people.” Archbishop Viruthakulangara died on April 19 following a heart attack in his sleep at the headquarters of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India in New Delhi. The 74-year-old prelate’s body was brought to Nagpur the following day and laid out for public viewing at the Pastoral Centre inside the Archbishop’s House. Thousands, including government, religious and political leaders, thronged the center for the last glimpse of the archbishop who many hailed as dynamic and lovable. An archdiocesan official said rich tributes began pouring in for ever since the news of the archbishop’s death was announced. Many hailed him as “an extremely efficient leader, a visionary and, above all, a pious man of God. His zealous attitude and profound conviction coupled with his humility will continue to inspire many in the days to come, the messages highlighted. On April 22, many politician friends and members of other Christian denominations came to pay respect and pray for the soul. They included the rector and members of the Saint Thomas Malankara Orthodox Theological seminary in Kalmeshwar, a satellite town of Nagpur. Also present at the funeral were brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces of the late archbishop. Sister Nithya, an Augustinian nun serving in Khandwa diocese in Madhya Pradesh, and two nephew priests – Divine Word Father Anil and Redemptorist Father Alex Viruthakulangara, both serving in the United States, also attended the funeral. Father Alex Viruthakulangara gave thanked the gathering on behalf the archbishop’s family while Father Jerome Pinto spoke on behalf of the archdiocese. The entire proceedings were covered by live telecast by News Channels and were also displayed to the public that covered every inch of the S. F. S. Cathedral compound on large screens. On April 24, the process of appointing an administrator will take place. The consulters of the archbishop will meet to elect a priest from the archdiocese. The elected administrator will serve until the Pope appoints a new archbishop.