First Dalit archbishop laid to rest, hailed as champion of the oppressed

.- A massive crowd gathered in the city of Vijayawada in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on August 30, to honor the memory of the recently deceased Archbishop Marampudi Joji of Hyderabad. The archbishop died on August 27 of a heart attack, his second since 2002. He was 68.

Archbishop Joji led a remarkable career as the first member of India's Dalit class, once regarded as the society's “untouchables,” to receive the high episcopal rank. Although India's caste system was officially abolished in the law, attitudes of discrimination have remained in some aspects of Indian life. A 2006 survey found that almost a third of the country's Dalits were Christians.

The archbishop was a strong advocate for the rights of India's sizable Dalit Christian minority. In a 2009 interview with AsiaNews, Joji explained that Dalit Christians are faced with discrimination in society because of their class origins, and even legally on account of their religion.

“I am the first Dalit bishop of India,” he said in the 2009 interview, “and I have a duty to ensure that most Dalit Christians can enjoy the same privileges on par with other Dalits.” Up to the end, Archbishop Joji devoted his life both to the leadership of the Church in Hyderabad, and to the cause of social justice for religious and ethnic groups in India.

These works led many officials of the Church and other Christian groups, as well as ministers of the state, to honor Archbishop Joji at his August 30th Requiem Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Gunadala.

T.M. Jayakar, a consultant with the Christian Minorities Finance Corporation in Andhra Pradesh, a development organization which the archbishop himself helped create, remembered his sense of solidarity and sacrificial love in a message that was posted to the Christian Persecution Update India website.

“We are placed by God in important positions in the Church and Society for a special purpose,” Jayakar's message quoted the late archbishop as saying. “It is our responsibility to express our solidarity to the poor and defend the marginalized. We must work hard for them without worrying about our own health and respite.”


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