Indian Cardinal Telesphore Toppo arrives for a meeting of pre-conclave on March 9, 2013, at the Vatican. / Credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

CNA Staff, Oct 6, 2023 / 12:25 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis sent a message of condolence following the death of Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, India, in an Oct. 5 telegram to the local Church in India. 

“Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop emeritus of Ranchi, please accept my heartfelt condolences, which I extend also to the clergy, religious, and lay faithful of the archdiocese,” Pope Francis said.

Toppo died at the age of 84 following three months in the hospital, finally succumbing to cardiac arrest on Oct. 4, according to Vatican News.

Toppo was the “first and only cardinal of the tribal communities of Asia,” Archbishop Andrews Thazhath, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said in an Oct. 5 letter following his death. 

Pope Francis said in his telegram: “I recall with immense gratitude the late cardinal’s years of dedicated priestly and episcopal ministry to the local churches of Dumka and Ranchi, as well as his contributions to the wider Church in India and to the Apostolic See.”

“His service was always marked by zeal for the spread of the Gospel, devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and generous pastoral care of the poor and those in need,” the Holy Father said. 

“To all who mourn Cardinal Toppo’s passing in the sure hope of the resurrection, I cordially impart my blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in the Lord,” he concluded.

Born in Chainpur, India, and according to La Croix, a member of the tribal Oraon community, Toppo was ordained a priest on May 3, 1969. He studied for the priesthood at the Regional Major Seminary of St. Albert’s College in Ranchi and continued his studies at St. Xavier’s College in Ranchi, earning a bachelor’s degree, and at Ranchi University, earning a master’s degree in history. Toppo also went to Rome to study theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana College.

He was first elevated to the episcopate in 1978, when he was ordained bishop of Dumka in eastern India. 

Toppo served both as a teacher and headmaster at St. Joseph’s High School in Torpa. 

In 1984, he was appointed coadjutor archbishop of Ranchi and succeeded his predecessor on Aug. 25, 1985, when he was installed. He served in that role until June 24, 2018. 

Appointed cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003, Toppo participated in both conclaves that elected Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.