Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect Propaganda Fide of the Holy See, (third from right), Cardinal Telesphore P Toppo (second from left) and Salvatore Pennacchio, Ambassador of the Holy See (left) in front of the plaque at Loyola grounds in Ranchi on Wednesday. Picture by Hardeep Singh
Vatican visitor Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Prefect Propaganda Fide of the Holy See, held a mass for 50,000 faithful and blessed the foundation plaque and four stone slabs that will be used to construct a medical college and hospital in Khunti on Wednesday at Loyola grounds, Ranchi.
Those present were New Delhi-based Salvatore Pennacchio, Ambassador of the Holy See (better known as Apostolic Nuncio), Archbishop Albert D’Souza, secretary general of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the highest policy-making body of Roman Catholic Church in India, four Cardinals and a disciplined audience of over 50,000 people.
Besides Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo of Ranchi, who played the gracious host, other Cardinals present included Mumbai’s Oswald Gracias, Ernakulam’s George Alencherry and Thiruvananthapuram’s Baselios Cleemis.
Cardinal Filoni, who landed in Ranchi on Tuesday afternoon, also led a special early morning mass at the Loyola grounds to mark Ash Wednesday, which marks the advent of Lent, the 40-day season of preparation before Easter.
Though it was a working day for schools, colleges and offices, thousands of the faithful still turned up at the grounds for the three-hour mass.
Cardinal Filoni asked Christians to “spend more time on prayers”. At the end of the mass, he blessed the black marble plaque and four stone slabs.
“Today is a holy day — Ash Wednesday — the start of the 40-day period of fasting and penance leading to Easter. As a sea of humanity turned up for the mass, we persuaded Cardinal Filoni to bless the plaque and stones in the presence of thousands of people,” Cardinal Toppo told The Telegraph.
“For Christians, this is the time to prepare for Easter with fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ — his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection,” Toppo explained.
However, when asked why the site of the programme was changed from Khunti to Loyola grounds, Toppo briefly remarked “technical reasons”.
He declined to elaborate what they were.
However, reports indicate that even as the blessing was in progress, simmering tensions at the 45-acre Khunti site, 30km from Ranchi, mounting.
Though no official — either of the church or administration — is ready to come on record on what seems to be a sensitive matter for obvious reasons, reports of existing tension were apparently why the site of the blessing ceremony was hurriedly changed to Loyola grounds.
No one wanted to take any chances with the security of high-ranking church officials.
Hundreds of villagers also protested at Fudi village, Khunti, the site of the proposed medical college, alleging “illegal transfer of land” to the church.
“Our lands, measuring 45 acres in all, have been sold off illegally. Villagers of Fudi, Naheldi, Argori, Kalamati, Dungra, Silda, Tandoli and Rai assembled at the disputed site to protest when we all heard church officials were going to lay the foundation stone,” Samuel Sanga, husband of Fudi panchayat mukhiya Puneet Helen Sanga, told The Telegraph over the phone from Khunti.Sanga also said that he was one of the frontrunners of the rural protest.
However, when contacted, Khunti superintendent of police Tamil Vanan, denied the existence of any such protest at the proposed site.
It remains to be seen if the blessings save the Khunti hub from becoming another Nagri.
Will the Khunti medical hub come up peacefully?