Hector Welgampola, veteran journalist specializing in Church in Asia, on the eve of the funeral service for Cardinal Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy in Rome, reflects on the contributions of the late cardinal to the development of the Church in Asia and in the world.
Cardinal Lourdusamy, 90, died on Monday in a Rome clinic where he had been hospitalized due to failing health, the Vatican announced.
Pope Francis in a message issued the same day expressed sadness over the death of the former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Oriental Churches and former Archbishop of Bangalore. The pope will conclude the last rites at St. Peter’s Basilica.
Cardinal Lourdusamy’s remains will be brought to India for rites and a funeral ceremony that will “most probably take place next Monday (June 9) or Tuesday (June 10) at Pondicherry,” Daijiworld news service in Bangalore reported.
Following is the commentary of Welgampola, who knew the cardinal in the prime of his life:
As we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, it is timely to recall how the Second Vatican Council brought into limelight several new leaders including some recent popes, bishops and theologians. Deceased Cardinal Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy was one of the first Asians among them. He attended the council fresh after episcopal ordination for India’s Vatican, Bangalore archdiocese.
The Tamil bishop was one of the youngest Council Fathers. Yet, he stood out among some 60 Indian participants by pleading for the holistic welfare of God’s poor. Jesuit Father Norman Tanner’s book “The Church in Council” cites how the Indian bishop urged that international aid be more than mere material aid. He said :
* international support should push for “emotional integration, unity and equality among all poor people.”
* He defined aid as “help that comes from the heart and goes to the heart,” the book claimed as if prophetically missioning a mandate for the then unborn Caritas.
It was a vision he had pushed as editor of the Tamil Catholic weekly of his native diocese, then named Pondicherry.
The young archbishop’s passionate call against discrimination, brought back to my mind what his brother, the late Father Simon Amalorpavadas, had told me about their own difficult path to the priesthood. But the new winds of the council boosted their spirits in their new home diocese in Karnataka. Together the two brothers helped make Bangalore archdiocese a regional venue for Church renewal. They set up the National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre. It was a hub of inspiration for all of South Asia. But as Archbishop Lourdusamy continued to be hassled by Bangalore’s unceasing language problems, providence led him where the council beckoned.
Conciliar thinking had already moved Pope Paul VI to reorganize the curia. Some of these innovative trends had already been explained during the 1969 All India Seminar by Archbishop Sergio Pignedoli, secretary of Propaganda Fide. The pope’s energetic emissary was scouting for fresh talent. Before long, this congregation’s responsibilities for the missions were entrusted to three prelates from the Third World – Latin American Cardinal A. Rossi, African Archbishop B. Gantin and Asian Archbishop D. S. Lourdusamy.
As the first Asian to hold curial office, the Indian prelate rose high in the service of the Holy See. After serving over a decade as secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, he was made a cardinal in 1985. A new appointment followed. Cardinal Lourdusamy was appointed prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches.
The Oriental congregation’s conciliar mandate regarding relations with the Eastern Churches was clear. But the new prefect had to work around the strong native Slavic sentiments of Saint John Paul II. The Vatican’s haste to make inroads into jurisdictions of Orthodox Churches in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse dampened their enthusiasm for dialogue. The temptation to saddle Eastern Churches with Latin-Church discipline was another attitudinal problem. For example, the move to impose the age 75 retirement rule on a Ukranian-Rite bishop became a sore point.
In such a scenario, as head of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Lourdusamy tended to begin from his own home turf. By boosting and upbuilding relations with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, he was able to make a unique contribution to the Indian Catholic community. His pioneer move restored the country’s native Syrian Catholic Churches to their rightful place.
Every forward move evokes criticism. Some Latin-Church leaders tended to see his focus on the Syrian Churches as divisiveness to avenge past grievances. Eyes rolled when his friend the Latin-rite Bishop Anthony Padiyara of Ooctamund was invited to return home to head the Syro-Malabar Church. However, it was welcome as a wise move, when the genial Syrian-cum-Latin-experienced prelate was installed later as the first Major Archbishop of that Church.
In a message to the Constitution and Directives of the Missionary Society of Saint Thomas the Apostle, Cardinal Lourdusamy encouraged that Church’s missionary activities. He lived to see the native Church very successfully serve its followers scattered in about a dozen dioceses throughout India in addition to sending missioners to Western countries. That service to the universal Church has been Cardinal Lourdusamy’s enduring legacy.
Before making his peace with the Lord on June 2, the illustrious Indian cardinal lived to see the final approval of canonization process for two more Syrian Church members – Blessed Euphrasia and Blessed Kuriakose Chavara. They would have joined Saints Alphonsa and Garcia to welcome home their compatriot, Duraisamy Simon Lourdusamy.
May his moksha (liberation) lead to the plenitude of beatific bliss.