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Visiting Indian archbishop killed in California car crash

ARCHBISHOP DOMINIC JALA
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Archbishop Dominic Jala died along with driver of car, another priest from India.

An archbishop from India who was also a member of a Vatican committee was killed in a highway accident near Sacramento, California, October 10, along with an Indian native serving as a pastor in the state.

Archbishop Dominic Jala of Shillong, a diocese in Northeast India, and Fr. Mathew Vellankal, a pastor in the Diocese of Oakland, died when the Toyota Prius in which they were traveling was hit by a tractor trailer on a highway near Wilbur Springs. Fr. Vellankal was driving. Both men died at the scene. Another passenger, Fr. Joseph Parekkatt, also a local pastor, survived the crash with injuries and is in stable condition at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Catholic News Agency reported.

A statement from the California Highway Patrol said the Prius was traveling westbound on SR-16 and failed to yield to traffic at SR-20.

“The driver of the Prius pulled out from the stop sign directly in front of a tractor/trailer and as a result, the Prius was broadsided,” the statement said. “The driver and right-front passenger of the Prius were killed and their rear passenger sustained major injuries.”

Archbishop Jala, 68, was in Rome from September 17-28 for an ad limina visit at the Vatican. That included a September 26 meeting with Pope Francis. According to Vatican News, the archbishop flew to the United States to attend a meeting of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) in New York. He left for California on October 6 to meet some of his priest friends.

Vatican News said he was a member of the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a member of ICEL and chairman of the Commission for Liturgy of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India. He was also chairman of the Liturgy Commission of the North East India Regional Bishops’ Council and was the author of the 1987 book Liturgy and Mission.

Born in Meghalaya in 1951, he was ordained a priest in the Salesians of Don Bosco in 1977. He had been archbishop of Shillong for the past 19 years and was also apostolic administrator of Nongstoin, India, since 2016.

Fr Vellankal, 58, was a Salesian priest from Kerala, India, who had served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Oakland since 2001. At the time of his death, he was pastor of St. Bonaventure parish in Concord. In 2005, he wrote a book titled From Humor to Inspiration: Jokes, Reflections and Quotes to Enliven Your Day.

“Father Vellankal’s joyous spirit and faith will be deeply missed,” Oakland Bishop Michael C. Barber issued a statement. “May his soul and the soul of Archbishop Jala rest in the peace of Christ.”

Jala will be buried in a grave close to the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, Laitumkhrah, Shilong Today reported. Catholics are praying each day at the cathedral as they await the return of his body.

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