Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, passed away here on Friday afternoon. He was 84.

The Cardinal was admitted to Lissie Hospital here following a heart attack in the afternoon after a private holy mass at his official house here. The end came at 2.30 p.m.

The funeral is likely to be held here on April 10, since many archbishops and bishops are in Rome now. Till then, the body will be kept in the mortuary of Little Flower Hospital, Angamaly.

The Curia Bishop Mar Bosco Puthur will take over as Administrator of the Major Archiepiscopal Church till the Synod elects a new Major Archbishop by a two-thirds majority, said Fr. Paul Thelekkat, spokesperson of the church. Church bells would chime and special prayers would be offered in churches in memory of the Cardinal during the period.

Vithayathil was born on May 29, 1927 at Varapuzha Puthenpalli (off Kochi) to Chevalier Joseph Vithayathil, a judge of the Kerala High Court, and Thresiamma. He had five brothers and two sisters.

Pope John Paul II appointed him as Apostolic Administrator of the Syro-Malabar Church and the Ernakulam-Angamaly Archdiocese on December 18, 1996. He was consecrated as bishop on January 6, 1997, appointed as Major Archbishop on December 23, 1999 (enthroned on January 26, 2000) and nominated to the college of cardinals on January 21, 2001. He participated in the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI.

A former president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Vithayathil had always reached out to other religions and people who believed in various political ideologies. He believed in dialogue and friendly communion.

In a biography, Straight from the Heart, written by Fr. Thelekkat after interviewing the Cardinal for around two weeks. The Cardinal says: “I do not have any enemies from followers of other religions, my priests or any other group/political party. They know that I sincerely love all though I cannot agree with the ideology of some.” Fr. Thelekkat remembers how the Cardinal's sincere and honest words often created 'crosses' for him, since he did not employ a ‘diplomatic' language.

Even in matters of liturgy and discipline, he was for decentralisation and diversity. Although quite outspoken, he did not hurt anyone. He considered the way of salvation as a pilgrimage to the Other.

Those who arrived at the hospital to pay their last respects to the high priest included Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Prakash Karat, Fisheries Minister S. Sarma, and K.P. Dhanapalan and P. Rajeev, MPs. Union Defence Minister A.K. Antony was among those who conveyed their condolence.