Archbishop Poola, the first Dalit to be appointed cardinal
Among the new cardinals chosen by Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Hyderabad comes from an "outcaste" family in Andhra Pradesh. A very significant choice after the controversy over the appointments of bishops in Tamil Nadu. The newly appointed bishop tells AsiaNews: 'Good news for Dalit Catholics and for the entire Church in India'.
Hyderabad (AsiaNews) - Among the new cardinals announced today by Pope Francis there is also a very important first for the Catholic Church in India: the cardinal's hat will go to the Archbishop of Hyderabad, Msgr. Anthony Poola, marking the entry into the College of Cardinals of a Dalit, that is, a person from the most disadvantaged group of 'outcastes'.
Msgr Poola, 61, is in fact a Telugu-born prelate from a Dalit family in the village of Poluru, in the diocese of Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh, which he led for over 12 years before being called by Pope Francis himself to lead the archdiocese of Hyderabad. His appointment takes on special significance considering the controversy of recent months over the appointments of bishops in the State of Tamil Nadu, where some organised groups of the faithful have bitterly contested the fact that only one diocese out of 18 has a Dalit prelate.
Commenting on the announcement made by the pope today, the cardinal-designate Anthony Poola told AsiaNews: 'I received the news from some people who told me about the Holy Father's announcement. It is God's will that I accept with humility: I am not worthy. I am grateful to Pope Francis for his trust. I was a priest in the diocese of Cuddapah,' he says of himself, 'for 16½ years, then I served as bishop of the diocese of Kurnool for 12½ years. Finally, in 2021, I assumed responsibility for the diocese of Hyderabad. This appointment of mine as a cardinal I believe is a privilege for the Telugu region and will grow the faith of the Church in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. I am a Dalit,' he emphasises, 'so this is good news for Dalit Catholics and for the entire Church in India. I believe it will bring the encouragement of Pope Francis to many'.
Jesuit A. X. J. Bosco, a Dalit rights activist, also commented to AsiaNews on the appointment of the first cardinal belonging to this group that is still the victim of so much discrimination in India: "This news came as a shock and a surprise to me. It is a great joy for the Dalits, who represent over 65% of the faithful of the Catholic Church in India. Pope Francis wants the Church to be synodal, to listen to everyone, including the least: now the Dalit Christians also feel that they have been heard after years of struggle."
"Bishop Poola,' continues Fr. Bosco, 'is an educated gentleman, very kind to everyone. He has a special love for the poor; he cares a lot about the Dalits. He is open and generous. Even to those who had lost faith because of the events in Tamil Nadu, this appointment of Archbishop Anthony Poola as cardinal brings some consolation and a glimmer of hope: miracles can always happen'.
In addition to the name of Archbishop Poola, the list of new cardinals also includes that of another Indian: 69-year-old Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrão, who has led the archdiocese of Goa and Daman since 2003. "This news is cause for great joy," wrote the archdiocese of Goa and Daman in a note, "This appointment that honours the person of our archbishop also places on his shoulders a great responsibility in the service of the universal Church, as a close collaborator of the pope. We pray that the spirit will guide him in this new mission'.