India’s first Dalit cardinal vows to be ‘missionary of compassion’

The Indian Church leader said his elevation to the College of Cardinals is in keeping with Pope Francis’ “care for the poorest of the poor”

Cardinal Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, India’s first cardinal from the marginalized Dalit community, said he wants to be a “missionary of compassion” for his people, especially the poor.

In an interview with LiCAS News, the Indian Church leader said his elevation to the College of Cardinals is in keeping with Pope Francis’ “care for the poorest of the poor.”

“I am a Dalit who hails from a poor region,” he said, adding that the Church also is to a large extent considering and paying attention to the different needs of the people.

“In my own case, I had to drop out of school due to poverty, but the missionaries later took care of me and helped me continue my education,” he said. “Today I am grateful to them for what I am.”

In an interview with the news site Crux in Rome, Cardinal Poola said he never dreamed of being a cardinal or even a bishop, saying his appointment is “a grace of God.”

“I am really fortunate, very grateful to God for having showered upon me His blessing and His grace, and to Pope Francis for having placed his trust and confidence in me,” said the prelate.

“The pope always says, the world already has so many intellectual people, today what we need are Good Samaritans, missionaries of compassion, so that is what I would like to do, and I will do my level best,” he said.

Cardinal Poola, 61, was ordained a priest in 1992 and was appointed bishop of Kurnool in 2008. He was then named archbishop of Hyderabad in 2020 and was appointed a cardinal by Pope Francis in May.

The cardinal said the Dalit issue in India is “unfortunate” because of the “social stigma” although “there are so many people who are fighting for equal rights and for justice and for peace.”

Dalit, also known as untouchable, is a name for people belonging to the lowest stratum castes in India.

“We have to admit that the caste and other issues of the marginalized are an old and perennial problem,” said Cardinal Pool in the LiCAS interview.

“We need to animate the people and do our best to eradicate the menace,” he said.

Speaking about his new role in the Church, Cardinal Poola said it “it will be heavy and challenging.”

“But I hope to do well with the support of my brother cardinals and bishops and through the collaboration of our priests, religious, and lay people,” he said.

He said his appointment as a cardinal “came as a big surprise to me.”

“When some of my friends told me, I did not believe till I got a call from the papal nuncio,” he said. “This elevation is something I could not have even have thought of in my wildest of dreams,” added the cardinal.

Born on November 15, 1961, in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, Cardinal Poola is the chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Bishops’ Conference’s youth commission. He was named the Archbishop of Hyderabad on November 19, 2020.

In previous pronouncements, he said being a cardinal lets him become a compassionate and merciful shepherd for the poor and Dalits.

The archbishop said he will prioritize social service in his ministry, especially by serving India’s poorest and often-forgotten “untouchables.”

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