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CIMA Gallary

Boy drummer to Cardinal

Born in Gumla on October 15, 1939, Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo obviously doesn’t remember his first Christmas. But as he grew up, he felt the stirrings of a close communion with Jesus. Ordained a priest in 1969, he threw himself with zeal in theological, administrative and social work and rose swiftly up the ranks — Bishop in 1978, Archbishop in 1985 and Cardinal in 2003. The man who learnt his alphabets in village Jhargaon also studied theology at the Urbanianum, Rome. But his greatest teacher is Jesus, says the Cardinal, as he recalls celebrations in his village in an exclusive chat with Rudra Biswas

Today, as I am a pastor of the Ranchi Archdiocese and have many responsibilities as Cardinal, I no longer have the time to visit my village Jhargaon in Chainpur block, Gumla. But in my mind, the joyous moments of Christmas spent at Jhargaon are as fresh as if they had happened only yesterday.

It is always numbingly cold this time of the year. And it was a one full hour’s walk from Jhargaon to the church in Chainpur. But we neither felt the distance nor the December cold as we hurried to church for the midnight mass.

We were a huge team of sisters, brothers and other village children. Once the mass was over and we received our blessings from the local priest, we would sing and dance on our way back home.

I was the eighth child among 10 siblings. Together with my parents, we were a complete team. We rejoiced, sang and danced to celebrate this season. Even as a boy, I was a very good drummer. On Christmas, I drummed up beats and asked every one to dance. My sisters, other boys and girls, everyone would join in. And there would be a lot of merriment.

I studied in my village school till Class III. Then, I went to Chainpur Boys’ High School, a residential cradle. But my father passed away. With a large family to support, I recall with deep gratitude how hard my mother worked to keep me in boarding school.

Every Christmas, I was home, drumming up beats for youngsters to dance. As I grew older, I enjoyed making the manger where Jesus was born. I would give myself wholly to making the crib of infant Jesus. I remember the story where a poor boy made a crib and placed two dolls in it. One was the Saviour. When he was asked who the other doll was, he said: “It is me. My nearness gives the Saviour warmth and love.” The boy was poor, with nothing to give except himself. So he gave himself up to the Saviour. Such was his love! The story had a great impact on me.

I could have died before birth as my mother had developed complications during labour. I was born with my tongue tied, a congenital anomaly. God helped out of these crises. My father died when I was a child. My poor mother could barely keep me in school. I remember I’d taken up the job to dig a well so that I could contribute to my studies. A clergyman had said that I would one day make my mark as a priest.

I cannot and will not count the blessings God has showered on me. When I opted to be a priest, I was a young man. All my life, I have tried to serve God in whatever small way I can. I can echo the poor boy of the story and say that the birth of Jesus and my love for the Saviour has made me what I am.