Vatican City (AsiaNews) Card Varkey Vithayathil is the Archbishop of Ernakulam-Angamaly, a diocese centred in the city of Kochi, the capital of the south-western Indian state of Kerala, where
Christians represent 19 per cent of the local population of 31 million, one of the highest percentages in India.
The second of eight children, one of whoma sisterhas taken the veil, he is a graduate in Canon Law from the Pontifical Institute Angelicum in Roma.
Since 1997 he heads the Syro-Malabar Church, the biggest of India's two Eastern Catholic Churches (the Syro-Malankar is the other), both of which trace their origins to St Thomas the Apostle, a Church that can count 3.5 million members divided in 25 ecclesiastic divisions.
Recently, Card Vithayahil came out strongly in defence of the family threatened, in his words, "by the media that promote a culture of death".
In a recent pastoral letter he urged the faithful to better understand what the Christian marriage means because "it seems people have forgotten that marriage is for life".
Just before leaving for Rome he reiterated Catholics' pro-life stance. "The Church is against abortion and the destruction of human life," he said.
Cardinal Vithayathil has also distinguished himself by coming out strongly in favour of religious freedom and against discrimination of Christians in India.
In 2003 he objected to a state-sponsored study on places of worship which he called ambiguous and dangerous to religious minorities.
Different human rights groups had slammed a similar survey that Hindu fundamentalists used in the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims.
The Cardinal has also strongly committed the Catholic community to helping the poor and Tribals.
In January 2004 he sent a letter to all the parishes of his diocese urging the faithful to show "love, respect and openheartedness" to people living with AIDS.
Currently, there are 39 Catholic-run AIDS hospices.
Cardinal Vithayathil has also reaffirmed the Church's commitment to non violent help to farmers who are too often exploited or brought to ruin by ruthless international competition.
The role of the Church, he said when he was proclaimed cardinal, is to urge people to "change the hearts" and "not destroy the rich". (LF)