Ranchi: Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, the Archbishop here and one of the 115 ‘selectors’ to have elected the new Pope, Francis I, spoke to The Telegraph at the International Stadium on Sunday evening.
Cardinal Toppo had been a special invitee to the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) versus Royal Challengers Bangalore IPL clash.
The following are excerpts
Q It’s rare for a Cardinal to be gracing a cricket match...
A (Smiles) As I’ve told you, my friend Amitabh (Choudhary, the JSCA president) invited me... I’m the Archbishop and I wanted to be a part of such a mega event being held in Ranchi... I’m a part of the city, after all.
You were politically correct, not cheering for any team. Did you do that consciously?
I had to stay neutral... I had to bless both teams... But I saw families being divided, some supporting KKR, while others were cheering for Bangalore. It was quite a different experience for me.
But are you always neutral?
When (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni’s captaining India, I pray for him... I pray for the Indian team... Dhoni’s put Ranchi on the world map, something that’s special.
You pray before every India match?
Yes... Let me give you two examples... I’d prayed before the World T20 final in 2007 and before the 2011 World Cup final... I think I have a contribution in those Indian wins!
Will you be praying for Imran Khan’s quick recovery?
I will, yes.
Have you met Dhoni?
Just once, casually, at the airport... That was before Dhoni became famous. Now, he’s surrounded by securitymen and hardly comes to Ranchi.
What’s special about Dhoni?
The calmness he brings to the field, the cool manner in which he bats... The way he conducts himself off the field as well. Dhoni doesn’t behave like a big star. He’s a balanced, peaceful man. I can’t claim to know him well, but that’s the way he comes across.
You keep going to the Vatican. Is anybody there aware of cricket?
You know, some of the ambassadors to the Vatican actually want the Vatican to have a cricket team.
Yes... In fact, on my last visit to the Vatican, the Australian ambassador (John McCarthy) invited me for dinner and only wanted to talk about Dhoni and the Indian team... He seemed fascinated that I’m the Archbishop of Dhoni's hometown.
Thanks to Choudhary and his team, Ranchi has a fantastic stadium. Your thoughts?
It’s a matter of pride for all of Jharkhand... The lovely stadium is a sign of progress.
Have you been a big cricket enthusiast?
I follow cricket to an extent, but that’s it. When I was young, I was more into tennis, which I learnt from some Australians when I was studying in Rome.
Do you have a favourite?
Not from this generation, but I used to like Boris Becker and Steffi Graf. Both brought so much energy to the court and were such outstanding players.
But why don’t you have a favourite from the present times?
Because I don’t get the time to follow tennis. Even cricket, I follow to an extent only. There’s so much to do... For the match, I had to alter my schedule. I’d been out of Ranchi from the morning.
You had a hand in electing the new Pope, Francis I. He’s supposed to be fanatical about soccer...
Pope Francis I is an Argentine, so it’s not surprising that he loves soccer. Argentina knows soccer, not cricket.
Cardinal, you played a role in the election of the previous Pope, Benedict XVI, too. Do you consider yourself fortunate?
It’s all God’s grace. I’ve felt honoured to represent India. The experiences have enriched me... It’s all the work of God... The media didn’t mention Jorge Mario Bergoglio as a front-runner, yet he became the Pope. He’s the first Pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit Pope. All God’s doing.
What clinched it for Pope Francis I?
Oh, I can’t go into details, but he inspired the 115 Cardinals to the extent that he got the required two-thirds majority.
Apparently, you know Pope Francis I rather well...
We stayed in the same Vatican house during the elections... A few weeks later, when I had to return to the Vatican for a meeting, he was still in that very house... We’ve had some meals together... He has a special love for the poor and has been known to travel by bus in his native Argentina.
The final one... What’s your message to young sportspersons?
That discipline makes a nation great... Anushashan desh ko mahaan banata hai... Even non-sportspersons need to be disciplined... You need discipline in all walks of life. Again, I’d like to take Dhoni’s example... Look at the way he plays and also the way he is outside a cricket field. Discipline could be his middle name.