12 Oct : Sister Alphonsa, a nun from a remote village in Kerala who passed away 62 years ago, has became the first woman saint from India when Pope Benedict XVI conferred Sainthood on her.
Watched by over 5,000 Indian Christians who came to the Vatican City for the historic ceremony from India and other parts of the world as well as thousands of others, the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa from Bharanganam village in Kottayam district, who died at a young age of 36 in 1946, as a saint.
Many priests and guests who attended the ceremony at the St Peters Square said it was a great day for them particularly when Christians have been targeted in states like Orissa and Karnataka.
After her canonisation, sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception has become the first woman from India to be conferred sainthood and the second Roman Catholic from country after Gonsalo Garcia, who was conferred the honour in 1862.
Union Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes and other dignitaries from Kerala attended the special mass during which Sister Alphonsa was conferred Sainthood as enthusiastic Indians waved the national tri-colour at the ceremony.
A number of Bishops and Cardinals from the country, including many from Kerala, were also present on the occasion.
While conferring sainthood on Sister Alphonsa, the Pope read out passages from the Bible and excerpts from her biography.
Pope later met the Indian delegates and told them that "my prayers are with Christians (in India) in these difficult times," in an obvious reference to the violence against the community in states like Orissa and Karnataka.
Sister Alphonsa, who lived a quiet religious life helping people around her place in Kerala, was hailed for a number of miracles, including two which were officially put up to the Pope.
One of the miracles attributed to her related to the healing of a young boy’s twisted feet after his family prayed at her tomb at the Alphonsa Chapel at Bharananganam near Kottayam.
The beatification process, the last formal step before sainthood, of Sister Alphonsa began in 1996 by Pope John Paul II, who had declared her a ‘Blessed Servant of God’, when he visited India.
Winding up the long-drawn process of the canonisation which began half-a-century back, the Pope conferred sainthood on Sister Alphonsa along with three others — Maria Bernarda Butler from Switzerland, Narcisa de Jesus Marlillo Moran from Ecuador and Father Gaetano Errico from Italy — at an internationally televised event.
"May their examples give us encouragement, their teachings give us direction and comfort," the Pope said in his homily.
Indian delegation at the ceremony included 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.
According to Indian church history, the first Indian person to become a Catholic saint was Gonzalo Garcia, a Jesuit born in Vasai near Mumbai.
He died a martyr at Nagasaki in Japan in 1597 and was raised to the status of a saint in 1862.
At the canonisation ceremony for Sister Alphonsa in the Vatican, representatives of the Syro-Malabar, Latin and Malankara churches of Kerala were also present.
Church sources say that elevation of Sister Alphonsa as a saint is of special significance to Indian Christians as she is a ‘home-grown’ person born and brought up in the 2000-year old Syrian Christian traditions of Kerala.
According to church historians, Kerala is the cradle of Indian Christianity with St Thomas, the apostle, preaching the faith by landing at Crangannore (Kodungallur) in AD 52.
Sister Alphonsa was born in a family of modest means as the fourth child of Muttathupadath Ouseph and Marian on 19th August 1910 at Kudamaloor in Kottayam.
She was christened Annakutty by her relatives.
She lost her mother when she was three-months old and her life was full of pain and suffering which she overcame by seeking solace in deep spirituality.
From a very young age, she had shown an inclination for spiritual life.
According to biographers, during her childhood she once deliberately burnt one of her legs so that she could avoid being accosted by suitors when she grew up.
Her will prevailed when she joined the convent of Poor Clares of Fransican Order at Bharananganam in 1927. She spent the rest of her life there till her death in 1946.
When she was alive, people from her sleepy farming village and the hamlets around used to call on the unassuming nun who would pray for them to mitigate their sufferings.
Some of the miracles attributed to her were said to have happened then.
The process of Alphonsa’s canonisation, the step-by-step procedure of raising a person to the high pedestal of a Saint in the Catholic Church, began in 1953 with the church setting up a Diocesan tribunal.
Since then, Alphonsa’s tomb near the convent she lived in has been a hallowed place of veneration for Catholics.
Govt to issue coin in honour of Sister Alphonsa
Ministry of Finance will issue a commemorative coin in the honour of sister Alphonsa on Sunday.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced that the coin will be released on 19th August next year in Kerala.
Sister Alphonsa was born in 1910, she belonged to the poor Franciscan Clarist Congregation in Kerala.
Her centenary year will commence on 19th August 2009 and will be celebrated for a year.