04/16/2005, 00.00
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Dias, from world diplomat to Mumbai pastor

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – His episcopal motto is Servus (servant) and his service has varied: from Vatican diplomat rubbing shoulders on the world stage to pastor-in-chief in Mumbai (Bombay) where he now leads one of the largest dioceses in the world—10,000 Km2, 14,6 million residents, 550,000 Catholics.

Archbishop Dias was born on April 14, 1936, in Bandra, a Catholic 'stronghold' in Mumbai.

He was ordained a priest on 8 December 1958 and just two years later he was on his way to the Vatican Diplomatic Academy in Rome.

For the next 30 years he served in different nunciatures around the world, in places as different as Scandinavia, Madagascar and Indonesia.

This has meant that he has had to deal directly with vastly different situations in which the Church and Christians find themselves.

As a top official in the Secretariat of State he has been involved in Soviet, Chinese and West African affairs.

As nuncio he has served in Ghana, Togo, Benin, and from 1987 till 1991in South Korea.

In the course of his many postings he has found time to pick up many languages: 17 in all, mostly European but also Korean.

His last diplomatic posting was in Albania where he stayed till 1997.

In this period he befriended Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And it was he who read the homily during the mass in which Pope John Paul II beatified the Albanian nun on October 19, 2003.

For the past eight years, Mgr Dias (elevated to the rank of cardinal in 2001) has led the archdiocese of Mumbai.

Here he has urged the laity, which he has called fervent and vibrant, to be missionary.

For him, evangelisation is the Indian Church's top priority and he is certain that it has a bright future.

Even the ostracism and persecution by Hindu fundamentalists cannot put a dent in his optimism.

"Persecution is something natural," he said in an interview right after he was proclaimed cardinal. "The Church has always had to face it, especially just before great leaps forward".

Indeed, India will have a special place in the challenge for the Church that is Asia in the third millennium.

The Cardinal, who is a great admirer of Mother Teresa and her work, has cited her many times as a model of Christian witness, and not only for Asia.

"Reaching out to our fellow human beings, embracing the poor as Mother Teresa did, must become a common service for every Christian," he said.

Still, Cardinal Dias has gone out on limb to criticise anti-Christian discrimination in Indian society.

In 2002, he slammed pressures put by the authorities on Catholic schools, which have "had to put up with uncooperative and abusive public officials as well intimidation".

The Church is heavily involved in the field of education in India. In the Mumbai region alone, she runs 136 schools for a total of 300,000 pupils. (LF)

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