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US: Churches named after Sister Alphonsa

Last updated on: October 10, 2008 22:28 IST

Three churches in the United States were named after Sister Alphonsa even before  her canonization by Pope Benedict XVI on October 12 in Vatican.

Parishioners at the Saint Alphonsa Church in San Fernando in Los Angles, claims that it is the first church in the whole world to be named after her.

The church was started as a mission of the St Thomas Syro-Malabar Diocese of Chicago in 2001. Sr Alphonsa was still in the Blessed or beatified status and there was no indication when she would become a saint. Beatification is the last step before canonization.

"But we knew that now or later, she would be canonized. So we decided to name the mission after her," Vicar Fr. Paul Kottackal said. The church allows to use the name of the beatified for new missions or churches.

The mission bought a building used by the Jehova's Witness members this year and a formal parish was inaugurated this July by Major Archbishop, Cardinal Varkey Vithyathil, head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. Syro-Malabar Church is an independent church within the Catholic Church.

He and Bishop Jacob Angadiath of the Chicago diocese allowed them to use the name as Saint Alphonsa. The cardinal assured them that the canonization was an officially decided matter and only a formal ceremony by the pope was left. So the church was registered as Saint Alphonsa Church.

The church conducted a two-day feast and special prayers on October 11 and 12 to coincide with the canonization ceremonies held in Vatican.

The Blessed Alphonsa Church in Atlanta, Georgia, will soon change its name to Saint Alphonsa Church. To celebrate the canonization, the church has scheduled a 21-day programme starting October 12, Abraham Augusty, chairman of the parish council, said.

The main celebrations are on November 1 and 2, when Bishop Agadiath will also come to participate.

A committee under Vicar Fr Kurian Karickal and Augusty is also working to make the celebrations a success.

Augusty, too, claimed that the Atlanta church is first to be named after Alphonsa. They bought six-acre land to built the church. It was inaugurated in 2006, ahead of the Los Angeles church. But Alphonsa's name was taken for the mission only in 2004. A mission is a congregation which will become a parish when it gets its own church.

The third church is in Dallas, Texas, still only a mission, as it has no church of its own. It is the second church for the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Dallas. Fr. Saji Chakkittamuri, who just arrived from Kerala, has taken over as the vicar of the church.

Several people from the US have already gone to Vatican to witness the ceremony.

Florida-based Joy Kuttiani, along with his family, is one among them.  He is a native of Bharanganam in Kottayam district, where Alphonsa lived and the mortal remains were buried.

It is the major pilgrimage centre of the Catholic community.

Kuttiani is a devotee of Alphonsa. He was instrumental in releasing a postal stamp in the name of Alphonsa in the 90s.

"It was K Karunakaran, former kerala chief minister, who made it possible. He forced the central ministers to bring out the stamp,' he said. More than 900,000 stamps with her pictures were sold, which was a rare thing in the postal history in India, he said.

George Joseph