VATICAN: Sister Alphonsa, who was born in Kerala, is now Saint Alphonsa. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at a ceremony at St Peter’s Square
on Sunday, becoming the first Indian woman saint.
She is only the second person from the Indian Roman Catholic church to attain sainthood. The first was Gonsalo Garcia, born in Vasai near Mumbai to an Indian mother and Portuguese father in 1556. The was declared a saint in 1862.
The other woman from India on the path to sainthood is Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who was beatified five years ago.
Indians from all over the world had reached Rome to watch Alphonsa’s cononization. An official delegation comprising Kerala public works department minister Mons Joseph, P C Thomas MP, former Kerala finance minister K M Mani, MLAs P C George and K V Thomas, former Meghalaya governor M M Jacob and Mahatma Gandhi University vice-chancellor Jancy James attended the ceremony.
Alphonsa, born in Kudamaloor village, is credited with curing illness and disease after her death in 1946, with the Vatican approving the reported miracle cure of Genil Joseph, a congenitally deformed child, in 1999. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 at Kottayam, 40 years after her death. In March this year, Pope Benedict XVI decided to canonize her.
Alphonsa, who deliberately disfigured herself at a young age to ward off suitors and enter the convent, died at the age of 36. Her tomb became a pilgrimage site and she was credited with several miracles.
Though she died at a young, she created a much bigger family of Sisters of the Franciscan clarist Congrgation with her short life of unflinching faith.
The Vatican took more than 50 years to scrutinize Alphonsa’s life and work before conferring one of church’s highest spiritual honours.
Braving a heavy drizzle, thousands have been pouring into Alphonsa’s church in the town of Bharananganam in Kerala’s Kottayan district, on foot, in minibuses, motorized rickshaws and cars from 4am (1030 GMT), when mass began in Malayalam.
“We always thought she was someone special, we felt she had an aura about her,” said Sister Grace Kalriparambil, 77, who knew Alphonsa.
The roads of the small town were lined with posters of Alphonsa, and the church and convent where she lived as a nun wore a festive look. Special masses were also being held in Catholic churches across Kerala, where Saint Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, is believed to have arrived in AD 52, bringing Christianity to India.
The canonization comes at a time when Christians, who make up barely 2.3% of India’s billion-plus population, have come under attack in parts of the country, as long-running tensions over religious conversions burst into the open again.
The killing of a Hindu leader in eastern Orissa state sparked some of the worst anti-Christian riots in decades, killing about 35 people and damaging dozens of churches.
“At a time when evil is so widespread, it is good to have something like this to keep our spirits up,” Sister Grace said.