Catholics in India welcomed the Vatican announcement naming a Dalit among 21 new cardinals created by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 29.
Archbishop Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, who was born in a Dalit Catholic family in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, is among the two new cardinals from India.
The other Indian national is Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao of Goa and Daman.
The pope will create the cardinals at a consistory on August 27.
A Dalit cardinal is “certainly a cause of pride and joy for Dalits who have been requesting the Vatican for so long,” said Sister Manju Devarapalli, secretary of the National Dalit Christian Watch.
The Carmelite nun said Cardinal-elect Poola is the first Dalit and first Telugu who has been “elevated to a greater servanthood.”
Archbishop Poola’s elevation comes amid talks about an Indian Dalit Rite in the Catholic Church and protests by Dalit groups calling for bishops from their community.
A Dalit cardinal was also their demand for decades, and they stepped it up after Pope John Paul II on October 21, 2003, made Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi.
Cardinal Toppo claimed that the new title recognized India’s tribal Church.
Such recognition for the Dalits took 19 years more years, but it has made Jesuit Father Irudhaya Jothi “extremely happy.”
The grassroots activist now working in northeastern India said it is “a proud moment for the Dalit community in the world.”
Father Jothi and Ravi Kumar, a Dalit leader from Vijayawada diocese in Andhra Pradesh, said Archbishop Poola’s appointment shows that Pope Francis continues to give recognition and representation to the Churches at the periphery and the marginalized communities.
Father Jothi said he prays that the Church gives “an emphatic hearing” to the standing demands of the Dalits, which he described as “the most exploited community.”
Sister Sujata Jena, a lawyer activist, prayed that the Dalit cardinal will bring in hope and open new paths for the empowerment of “the age-old marginalized community” to become “children of God equal to others.”
She told Matters India that the “groundbreaking news” shows the Indian Dalit Christians’ long journey of courage and determination has finally borne fruits.
The nun said the news made her pause to “thank the Lord for the fitting gift to the Dalit Catholic community in India.”
Sister Jena, however, expressed regret that Dalits, who form more than 65 percent of Catholics in India, have been victims of structural injustice both in the Church and society.
She said the Dalit cardinal has “a greater responsibility to take up the millennium-old exploited community’s concern to the mother Church.”
“The Dalit Catholics will look up to their own cardinal for a greater understanding and justice and equality as the Church globally moves toward the Synodal Church,” added the nun.
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