Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo
While the bishops of his Church were making their ad limina visit to Pope Benedict XVI, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church based in India died unexpectedly in Kochi, India where he had been hospitalized earlier on April 1. The Redemptorist major archbishop was 83.
Born on May 29, 1927 in Kerala, India he was educated in local schools and entered the Redemptorist order, professed on Aug. 2, 1947 he completed his seminary studies in Indian and was ordained a priest on June 12, 1954. Sent to Rome in 1955 he completed his doctoral studies in Canon Law at the Angelicum University in 1959.
On his return to Indian he spent the next 26 years teaching, serving as administrator and eventually as provincial of the Redemptorists in India. On Dec. 18, 1996, the late pope John Paul II named him a bishop and also ordained him to the episcopate in St. Peter's on Jan. 6, 1997.
He was named to head the Syro-Malabar Church, one of 22 ''sui iuris'' Churches which compose the Roman Catholic Church. The ancient Church traces its roots in India to the Apostle Thomas and are sometimes called the "St. Thomas Christians."
Pope John Paul II also named the archbishop to the College of Cardinals at the consistory of Feb. 21, 2001.
The cardinal made a visit to the archdiocese of Boston and New England on July 19, 2008 celebrating the patronal feast of the sole Syro-Malabar Catholic parish within the territory of the archdiocese of Boston, that of St. Thomas which currently has its home at St. Jeremiah Church in Framingham.
The cardinal's funeral rites were to be celebrated on April 10 in the Basilica of St. Mary, Ernakulam, India the seat of the major archbishop.