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By Matters India Reporter
Bengaluru: Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay and one of the advisors of Pope Francis, was on February 8 elected the president of the Catholic Bishops in India.
The 73-year-old Latin prelate replaces Cardinal Baselios Mar Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Church who led the country’s 20 million Catholics since 2014.
With the election, Cardinal Gracias created history as the first Church leader to head the Church in Asia as well and in India. Cardinal Gracias is the president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and Conference of Catholic Bishops of India, the episcopal body of the Latin rite prelates in the country.
The election was held during the 33rd biennial plenary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) that is now underway at St. John’s National Academy for Medical Sciences in Bengaluru, capital of Karnataka state.
Cardinal Gracias assumes leadership of the Catholic Church in India at a crucial time in India’s history. The country is scheduled to elect a new national government in the first half of 2019. Media reports indicate a move to hold the elections end of this year.
The Church in India has witnessed attacks on its personnel and institutions in several parts of the country in the past few years. Radical groups have opposed its charitable activities among the poor, especially Dalit and Tribal communities.
Cardinal Gracias had headed the Indian Church for four years from 2010.
He is one of the eight cardinals Pope Francis chose on April 13, 2013, to advise him on the management of the Universal Church and reformation of the Vatican Curia. Pope Benedict XVI made him a cardinal in 2007, a year after he was appointed the archbishop of Bombay.
Cardinal Gracias was born on December 24, 1944, in Mumbai (then Bombay) to Jervis and Aduzinda Gracias of Goan origin.
He completed his school studies at St. Michael’s School in Mahim, Mumbai, and joined Jesuit-managed St. Xavier’s College in the same city. After a year, he entered the Seminary of St. Pius X in Bombay, and was ordained a priest by Cardinal Valerian Gracias (no relation) of Bombay on December 20, 1970. He served as the chancellor and secretary to the late Jesuit Bishop Joseph Rodericks of Jamshedpur during 1971-1976.
He obtained doctorate in canon law from Rome’s Pontifical Urbaniana University in 1982. He also has a diploma in jurisprudence.
On his return to Mumbai, he was named chancellor, judge of the metropolitan tribunal, and judicial vicar of Bombay archdiocese. He has also served as the chancellor and judicial vicar. He also served as the president of the Canon Law Society of India.
On June28, 1997, he was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Bombay by Pope John Paul II. He was appointed the Archbishop of Agra on September 7, 2000.
He also served the CBCI as it secretary general.