Sister Alphonsa, a Catholic nun from Kerala, elevated on October 12, 2008 as “Saint” by Pope Benedict XVI at a solemn function at the Vatican, is the first Indian woman to be canonised. Church bells tolled across Kerala and special prayers were held as the proclamation was made at the St Peters Square in the Vatican.
Three others---an Italian priest and founder of Missionaries of Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Father Geatano Eerrico, Swiss foundress of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, Maria Bernarda Butler and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo, an Equadorian lay person---were also canonised as “Saints” along with the Keralite nun.
The Prefect of Congregation of Saints presented Sister Alphonsa's biography to the Pope. Sister Alphonsa is the second person from India to be canonised by the Catholic church, the first being Gonzalo Garcia, a Franciscan monk born to an Indian mother and Portugese father. While she was alive, people from the sleepy farming village and hamlets around used to call on her and she would pray for them. Some of the miracles attributed to her were said to have happened then.
While the Roman Catholic Church has over 10,000 canonised saints, in India this is the first time that someone from its flock has been elevated to full sainthood. The church is spread over Syro Malabar, Malankara and Latin Catholic rites and accounts for about 70 per cent of the Christian population in India.
Giant screens had been put up at Kudamaloor and Bharananganam, the ancestral house and tomb respectively of Sister Alphonsa, to enable the thousands of worshippers who had gathered to see the live telecast. Union minister Oscar Fernandes led the Indian delegation at the ceremony. Kerala was represented by state PWD minister, Mons Joseph, former minister K M Mani and MP P C Thomas, among others. Mother General of Franciscan Clarist Congregation, mother Celia, presented the relics of Saint Alphonsa to the Pope. Former Kerala minister K M Mani and Father Francis Vadakkal, Vice Postulator of the cause of Sister Alphonsa, who led the process of canonisation in India, followed the relics with lighted candles. Thousands of Indian Christians had gathered at the Vatican to view the ceremony.
"This is a proud moment for the Catholic church", Church spokesperson Father Paul Thelekat said. The elevation of Sister Alphonsa into sainthood is of special significance to Indian Christians as Alphonsa is a totally 'home grown' person---born and brought up in the 2000 year-old Syrian Christian traditions of Kerala, considered as the cradle of Indian Christianity with St Thomas apostle preaching the faith by landing at erstwhile Crangannore (Kodungallur), in AD 52.
The process of Alphonsa's canonisation began in 1953 with the church setting up a Diocesan Tribunal. After examining the records of her life and works and testifying the witnesses, she was raised to the status of Blessed through the beautification process by late Pope John Paul II when he visited India in 1985. Pope Benedict made an official announcement of her elevation to sainthood early this year after giving the final stamp of approval to a miracle attributed to her.