Sister Alphonsa becomes India’s first woman saint (Lead)

October 12th, 2008 - 4:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Vatican City, Oct 12 (IANS) Kerala nun Sister Alphonsa became Saint Alphonsa after she was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI at a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square here Sunday, becoming the first Indian Catholic woman to be so anointed. The ceremony was attended by around 25,000 people of Indian origin - many waving Indian flags - as well as a large delegation from India. Alphonsa is the first woman saint of the Indian church, which claims 2,000 years of history. The canonisation took place at 2.40 p.m. (Indian time).

The final ceremony for the canonisation began with the holy relics of Alphonsa being presented to the Pope by Sister Celia, mother general of the Franciscan Clarist congregation - the congregation that Sister Alphonsa belonged to. Celia was accompanied by Vice Postulator Father Francis Vadakkel and former Kerala minister K.M. Mani, all holding lighted candles.

Speaking in English, the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa a saint, after reading excerpts from the Holy Bible.

The Pope himself read out the biography of Alphonsa after the ceremony.

The rituals began at 12 noon (Indian time) Sunday. At least 25,000 Indian origin people, a majority from Kerala, where Saint Alphonsa belongs, gathered at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to attend the historic moment. Many were waving the Indian national flag during the ceremony.

A 15-member official Indian delegation, led by Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes, attended the ceremony. A Catholic delegation from India also attended the event.

Sister Alphonsa was third in the number of four saints canonized Sunday. Gaetano Errico, born Oct 19, 1791, in Italy was canonized first. The second was Mary Bernard, born in Switzerland May 28, 1848. The third was Sister Alphonsa.

Narcisa De Jesús Martillo Morán, born in 1832 in Ecuador, was the fourth to be canonised.

Thousands of devotees from across the world attended the ceremony.

The programme started with a prayer in Latin language. A booklet of the procedures was distributed among the devotees. The chapter regarding Sister Alphonsa was also written in her mother tongue, Malayalam.

Pope Benedict had cleared Sister Alphonsa’s name for canonisation on June 1, 2007, a process that was started 55 years ago. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 in Kottayam, 40 years after her death, in recognition of the numerous miracles associated with her.

Alphonsa was born in Kudamaloor, a village near Kottayam, to Joseph and Mary Aug 19, 1910, and after facing several health problems she died July 28, 1946, in Bharnanganam.

She is the second saint from India to be canonised.

In the 19th century, Saint Gonsalo Garcia, born in Vasai near Mumbai to an Indian mother and Portuguese father in 1556, was declared a saint.

(K.V. Thomas is a Kerala legislator and a retired university professor. He is a member of the Indian delegation led by Union Minister Oscar Fernandes.)

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