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Rediff.com  » News » Vatican set to confer sainthood on Sister Alphonsa

Vatican set to confer sainthood on Sister Alphonsa

October 11, 2008 15:04 IST

Two millennia of Indian Christianity will have its greatest moment of joy and pride when Pope Benedict XVI elevates Kerala-born Sister Alphonsa to the status of saint on Sunday.

Sister Alphonsa will become the first Indian woman to achieve the high spiritual position in the hall of fame and veneration of the Catholic Church.

Winding up the long-drawn process of canonisation, which began half-a-century back, the Pontiff will confer sainthood on her along with three others from other parts of the world at a special four-hour long mass and allied ceremonies starting from 12.30 pm IST.

Hundreds of Keralite Christians from different parts of the world are expected to attend the event at the Vatican and share the jubilation.

Live screening, special services and a memorial meeting have been planned in the small town of Bharanangnam in Kerala's Kottayam district, where the self-effacing Alphonsa led her short life of unflinching faith in the first half of the 20th century.

The three others to be made saints are Italian priest and founder of Missionaries of Sacred Hearts of Jesus Fr Geatano Eerrico, Swiss foundress of the Congregation of Fransiscan Sisters of Mary Help of Christians Maria Bernarda Butler and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo, an Ecuadorian lay person.

According to 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 in1597 and was raised to the status of a saint in 1862.

According to Church sources, elevation of Sr 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.

Alphonsa was born in a family of modest means as the fourth child of Muttathupadath Ouseph and Marian on August 19, 1910 at Kudamaloor in Kottayam district. She was christened Annakutty by her relatives.

She lost her mother when she was three-months old and her life was full of physical pain and suffering, which she bore by seeking solace in deep spirituality tempered by steely faith in the providence above.

Since 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 near her village in 1927. She spent the rest of her life there till her death in 1946.
 
When she was alive, people from the 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 Keralite Catholics.

After examining records of her life and works and testifying the witnesses, she was raised to the status of Blessed through the beatification process by the late Pope John Paul II during his India visit in 1985.

Earlier this year, Pope Benedict made an official announcement of her elevation to sainthood after giving the final stamp of approval to a miracle attributed to her.

One of the powerful archie episcopal churches retaining its cultural and spiritual identity and administrative autonomy under the Catholic hierarchy, Syro Malabar Church (SMC) is the most influential Christian community in India.

Over the years, three others hailing from the SMC fold have been raised to status of Blessed by Vatican -- Chavara Kuriakose Elias, Mariam Thresia and Fr Kunjachan.

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