The creation of a cardinal from India’s Catholic Dalit community is a “sign of hope” for the Church in India, said members of the clergy.
“This a sign that the Dalits have hope in the Church through the Holy Father,” said Father Devasagaya Raj M Zackarias from Cuddalore district.
“This is history. We can see a great change in the demography of the Catholic Church in India,” he said.
The Vatican on Sunday, May 29, named two Indian Church leaders — Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, who was born in a Dalit, and Archbishop Filipe Neri António Sebastião di Rosário Ferrão of Gao and Daman.
“It is a surprise and great news that a Dalit has been made a cardinal,” said Father Devasagaya, saying that a “It is a good sign to Indian society that the Holy Father recognizes the Dalits.”
Dalits account for about 64 percent of the Catholic population in India and 75 percent of Catholics in the Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese.
For months, Dalit groups have been appealing to Catholic Church leaders to appoint a Dalit archbishop, even meeting with the apostolic nuncio to India early this year.
Archbishop Poola was born on Nov. 15, 1961, in Chindhukur in Kurnool district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
He joined the minor seminary in Kurnool and then studied at St. Peter’s Pontifical Major Seminary in Bangalore. He was ordained priest on Feb. 20, 1992. His episcopal ordination took place on April 19, 2008.
At the age of 59, he was appointed Archbishop of Hyderabad on Nov. 19, 2020, and installed in January the next year.
Dalit priest AXJ Bosco said the appointment of Archbishop Poola “is a great good news to all the 65 percent Dalit Catholics in the Church.”
“It is a symbolic gesture of sensitivity and sympathy from the Church hierarchy to have promoted a Dalit to the status of cardinal,” said the priest.
Prof M Mary John of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement said “It is really gratifying to have a Dalit cardinal.”
“It has historical significance for the Catholic Church in India,” he said, adding that the movement “profoundly thanks the Holy Father Pope Francis.”
The pontiff also named Archbishop Ferrão, president of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, to the College of Cardinals.
The prelate was born on Jan. 20, 1953, in Aldona in Goa. He was ordained priest on Oct. 28, 1979, and was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Goa and Daman on Dec. 20, 1993.
He was ordained bishop on April 10, 1994, and was assigned the titular see of Vanariona.
He was appointed Archbishop of Goa and Damãn and the Patriarch “ad honorem” of the East Indies on Dec. 12, 2003. He was installed as archbishop on March 21, 2004, and served the CCBI and CBCI as vice president.
The Indian Church has now four cardinals — Cardinal George Allencherry, Major Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly diocese; Cardinal Oswal Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay; and Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, Major Archbishop Catholicos of Trivandrum and head of Malankara Catholic Church. The fourth Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo is a non-elector cardinal.