For someone who had to struggle at birth, battle an oral impairment, endure the loss of his father and fight poverty very early in life, only an unfaltering faith in God could have kept him going.
So when Telesphore P. Toppo completed a decade in the service of the Roman Catholic Church as cardinal on Monday, he couldn’t thank the Almighty enough for what he had achieved.
“I was to die even before birth as my mother had developed complications during labour. I was born with tongue tie, a congenital anomaly that restricts speech. God helped me out of these crises,” Toppo told The Telegraph over phone from Munich, Germany, where he was taking part in religious ceremonies.
“My father died when I was a child. My mother was poor and could barely keep me in school. I remember I’d taken up the job to dig a well so that I could earn something and contribute to my studies. A clergyman had then proclaimed that I would one day make my presence felt as a priest,” he said.
God, he said, had showered numerous blessings on him. “I cannot and will not count… 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.”
Born on October 15, 1939, t Chainpur in Gumla district, Toppo was ordained bishop in 1978 and rose to the rank of archbishop in 1985. On October 21, 2003, then Pope John Paul II ordained him as cardinal.
In February this year, in one of his final orders, Pope Benedict XVI re-nominated Toppo as a member of the Commission of Cardinals that supervises the functioning of the Vatican Bank, officially known as the Institute for Works of Religion.
He also serves as a member of a committee that overseas drafting and approving of budgets of the Holy See.
“Now, my biggest challenge is to get the medical college and hospital project off the drawing board. This is my dream project. I have been pursuing it since 2008 without any concrete result. We are still looking for around 300 acres. Though we have got several offers, the land deal is yet to be finalised,” he rued.
The cardinal is confident of making the college a reality.
“Wherever I go, I campaign for this medical college. I have spoken to Church officials and even the faithful, seeking support. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I will talk to Church officials in Munich to solicit financial and technical support for the project,” he said.
Toppo is scheduled to return to Ranchi on October 27.