Vatican City (AsiaNews/Agencies) Card Telesphore Placidus Toppo, 65, is Archbishop of Ranchi, capital of the Indian state of Jharkhand. Named by John Paul II in the consistory of October 2003 he is the first ethnic Oraon, an indigenous tribal group, to be elevated to the rank of cardinal; he heads the diocese of Ranchi since 1985.
He is known for his strong commitment to mission and for his social involvement on behalf of tribal people (who are numerous in Jharkhand and the neighbouring state of Bihar), people living with leprosy, drug addicts and in favour of education.
During the recent tsunami crisis he spent several days in the stricken state of Tamil Nadu visiting Catholic relief and aid organisations.
Cardinal Toppo does not mince words when it comes to the issue of conversion to Christianity, a theme often used by Hindu fundamentalists to attacks Christians and missionaries.
He has always rejected claims that "conversions are forced", saying that "we do not approve them; they are contrary to Catholic theology". In fact, he insists that "should any conversion be shown to have been done without consent, the baptism is not registered".
By the same token, the archbishop of Ranchi clearly is opposed to anti-conversion laws adopted in some Indian states; such laws require converts to inform the authorities of their new religious affiliation.
"It is not possible to see any harm or evil when someone in good conscience embraces another religion," he explains.
Indeed, in social terms, the Christian mission represents a valuable contribution to the advancement of Tribals.
When he speaks about evangelisation among the people living on the Chotanagpur plateau Cardinal Toppo never tires to say that "the Gospel has given [them] back their dignity", especially to the indigenous people who are still at the bottom of the Hindu caste system.
In his last Christmas message, he urged all Indians to recreate a country where all religious groups peacefully live together. "Every religion teaches love for others; none urges discrimination and hatred. We must overcome the violence stemming from recent religious incidents."
Cardinal Toppo chaired the Latin Bishops' Conference of India till March of this year. He currently is in charge of the Office for evangelisation of the Federation of Asian Bishops.
He was also appointed by John Paul II to be one of four delegates to the General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops that is scheduled to take place in Rome from October 2 to 29, its main topic being the Eucharist.
India's population now stands at 1.028 billion. Just over 80 per cent are Hindu; Christians are about 2.3 per cent, i.e. 24 million. Of these, 16 are Catholic. (LF)