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Pope Francis condoles the death of Indian Cardinal Simon Pimenta

Vatican City, 20 July 2013: ‘Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Simon Ignatius Pimenta, Archbishop Emeritus of Bombay, I offer heartfelt condolences to you and to all the clergy, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese’, wrote Pope Francis on Saturday in his condolence message sent to Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay.
Cardinal Simon Ignatius Pimenta, who led the Indian Church during one of its critical periods, died in Bombay on Friday after a brief illness. He was 93.

‘Recalling with gratitude, Pope Francis said, Cardinal Pimenta’s long years of devoted service to the Catholic community there and his many years of faithful assistance to the Successor of Peter as a member of the College of Cardinals. I join you in praying that God our merciful Father will grant him the reward of his labours and welcome his noble soul into the joy and peace of the heavenly Kingdom’.
Pope Francis imparted his Apostolic blessing to Cardinal Pimenta’s relatives and all assembled for the Solemn Requiem Mass for the Cardinal.

A spokesperson of the Catholic church said the funeral details would be announced within a few days. Members of the Catholic community will pay their respects Saturday morning at the Clergy Home at Bandra.
The late cardinal headed the Indian Church as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) in 1987 when Pope John Paul II allowed the country’s three ritual Churches to set up their own separate espiscopal conferences amid fears of tension, rivalries and acrimony. The cardinal was the archbishop of Bombay, the largest Catholic diocese in India, from 1978 to 1997.

Later when he was made the cardinal observers said the multi-faceted prelate earned the honor because of his ability to think critically and to be open to changes. The cardinal proved his leadership abilities in the Church by keeping his equilibrium when several contentious social and religious issues came to a head.

The Indian bishops endorsed their faith in his ability to guide the Church by electing him the CBCI president three times. During his six-year presidency, the Church weathered one of the severest tests of its unity — the inter-rite issue and the claim of the Oriental Churches to a separate identity.

After failure to achieve consensus on the matter at two successive CBCI meetings, the archbishop minced no words when he asked bishops “to rise above ourselves, our personal likes and dislikes, our differences, and chart a new and prosperous path for the Church in India.” The bishops at a plenary of the conference unanimously approved the new statutes of the CBCI, ending speculation about sharpening divisions among the rites.

Bombay´s second cardinal, Archbishop Pimenta was born at Marol in Bombay on March 1, 1920. He did his primary school studies in Marathi and passed the matriculation exam at St. Xavier´s High School in 1936. He graduated from St. Xavier´s College with a degree in arts. As a youth, Cardinal Pimenta was a voracious reader and a music and sports enthusiast. He played the violin and was skilled in cricket and hockey – which accounted for his frequent allusions in speeches to cricket and harmony.

After ecclesiastical studies at the diocesan seminary, he was ordained by the late Cardinal Valerian Gracias in 1949. Two years later, he joined the Urban University, Rome where he obtained a doctorate in canon law.

On his return to India, the young priest was appointed secretary at the archbishop´s house, and held posts of vice chancellor and defender of the bond in the matrimonial tribunal of the archdiocese. In 1960 he was appointed visiting professor of liturgy at St. Pius X College, the diocesan seminary, where he lectured for five years.

In 1967, he took charge as rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Name and was appointed episcopal vicar for the liturgy and for the pastoral formation of junior clergy. After a short rectorship at the diocesan seminary in 1971, he was nominated titular bishop of Bocconia and auxiliary to Cardinal Gracias. In 1977, he was named coadjutor archbishop of Bombay. On Cardinal Gracias´ death in 1978, he became archbishop.

He was a member of the Vatican Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes, Secretariat for Promotion of Christian Unity and the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of Canon Law. The late cardinal´s balanced approach on controversial issues had been frequently quoted in religious and secular newspapers.

At a civic reception to the Indian bishops in 1988, Kerala Governor Ram Dular Sinha praised Christians for their contribution to the country´s development. Archbishop Pimenta, responded, asking the authorities to accept, not suspect, the Christian community. Governor Sinha had accused Christian missioners of fomenting trouble in Chhotanagpur region in eastern India when she was the federal home minister.

Cardinal Pimenta was quite vocal in 1992 when India went through sectarian violence that threatened the country’s secular credentials and existence as a single nation. The worst affected was Mumbai, India’s commercial capital.

He told an interreligious gathering in Mumbai that India had “deep psychic wounds” that needed healing. He was the member of the “Sarva Dharma Maitri Pratishtan” (trust for all faiths friendship) that organizes peace marches and interfaith meetings in Mumbai.

“More than physical, it is psychological and spiritual matters where spiritual leaders can singly and jointly help,” Cardinal Pimenta used to say at inter-religious meetings. He maintained that animosity between Hindus and Muslims, two major religions in India, needed political and spiritual solutions and urged the delinking politics from religion. He warned against destroying the country´s secular character through “mutual misuse of religion and politics to arouse passions.”

He also warned that a political party would become sectarian and exclusive if it aligned closely to a particular religion. He had also urged Hindus and Muslims to avoid irritants to ease interreligious tensions and urged both groups to reassess religious practices that do not affect the faith but irritate others. He said riots can easily be triggered by loud speakers, bells, drums and religious processions. “Such practices are not desirable and need to be looked into,” he used to say.
In his own diocese, the cardinal called for a diocesan synod and was very active in pastoral and charitable activities especially in managing 12 hospitals and 44 dispensaries, and has dedicated much to Catholic education.
Source: VR Sedoc & Mattersindia


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