Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cardinal Toppo and the WYD

Why Cardinal Toppo Came to the World Youth Day

by Austine J. Crasta

One of the essential parts of the World Youth Day (WYD) programs are the catechetical sessions conducted by Bishops from around the world. Some of the Indian Bishops too, took up the challenge to catechize the youth converged at Sydney this WYD. Among them were Bishop Isidore of Allahabad, Bishop Anil Couto of Jalandhar, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi and I think I also saw Bishop Peter Machado of Belgaum and Bishop Alwyn Baretto of Sindhudurg.

Cardinal Toppo at the Catechesis at St. John's Parish Church, Campbelltown, July 16, 2008.

The 510 member Indian delegation to the WYD was put up on Campbelltown, one of the 500 suburbs of Sydney. And Catechesis was arranged for us right there at St. John's parish Church, Campbelltown on the mornings of 16th, 17th, and 18th along with Mass by the Catechising Bishop and an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Reading from the text of Pope Benedict's Message for the World Youth Day.

The first of the three Catechesis for us was taken by our own Indian Cardinal Telesphore Toppo. It was a rare privilege to have a Catechising Cardinal when most other groups had only Bishops. But there he was this humble man, more conscious of his roots than of his heights which saw him made the first tribal Cardinal from India, perhaps from Asia, by the late Holy Father of venerable memory Pope John Paul II, the man who initiated the World Youth Day in 1984.

The Cardinal quoted also from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church given to all WYD pilgrims. A catechetical moment.

Everyone listening in rapt attention.

And Cardinal Toppo had a story to share. Of why he came for the World Youth Day.

If you recall, Cardinal Toppo served two consecutive terms as the President of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) between the years 2004-2007. Few months before the death of then Holy Father Pope John II who passed away on April 2, 2005, Cardinal Toppo, as President of the CBCI went to meet him. During their meeting, the Holy Father, frail in health and struggling with his speech, asked the Cardinal, "How many retired Bishops do you have [in India]"?

Cardinal Toppo taking questions from his listeners

For Cardinal Toppo, that came like a bolt of lightening. We normally only think of the well and the active but not of the sick and the old. But the Pope was thinking of and enquiring even about the retired Bishops in this country during his meeting with the Cardinal who was the then President of the Indian Bishops Conference. And that gesture touched our Cardinal very much.

On another occassion towards the end of 2004 the Cardinal met the same Pope. During their conversation, Pope asked Our Cardinal if he would be there for the upcoming 20th World Youth Day at Cologne, Germany (August 2005). As Cardinal Toppo recalled to us those intense moments of that encounter with the Pope he confessed that up to that point he wasn't thinking of attending the WYD at Cologne. But after the Pope asked him that question, he exclaimed to himself, 'Here is a Pope failing in health, but who is still thinking of his encounter with the youth eight months ahead of the World Youth Day (August 2005) not even knowing whether he would even be able to make it'. Touched by the Pope's concern for the youth, the Cardinal responded 'Yes', he would make it.

Celebrating the Holy Eucharist and delivering the Homily

Just a few months later, Pope John Paul II died. Four months ahead of the World Youth Day he was deeply thinking about. Inspired by that meeting with the 'Father of the World Youth Day', Cardinal Toppo took a resolution and declared to us that as long as he was alive and able, he would make it to every World Youth Day.

And that's why he came.

He deserves this little gesture of gratitude

He came and he stole our hearts with his simplicity, innocence and heart-warming sharings. It was a catechesis of life.

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