India got its first woman saint when Pope Benedict XVI canonised Kerala nun Sister Alphonsa at a special ceremony at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City on Sunday.
Vatican City, Oct 12:
Alphonsa is the first woman saint of the Indian church, which claims 2,000 years of history. The canonisation took place at 2:40 pm IST.
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 IST. At least 25,000 Indian origin people, a majority from Kerala, where Saint Alphonsa belongs, gathered at St Peter's Square 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 canonised on Sunday. Gaetano Errico, born October 19, 1791, in Italy was canonised first. The second was Mary Bernard, born in Switzerland on May 28, 1848. The third was Sister Alphonsa.
Narcisa De Jesus Martillo Moran, 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 on 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.
Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who served the poor and destitute in Kolkata, was beatified in 2003, a first step to canonisation.
Bells rang and firecrackers burst across Kerala and in other parts of India as soon as the Pope declared the Roman Catholic nun a saint. The nun can now be worshipped by the followers of Christianity.
The canonisation ceremony was telecast live from the Vatican.
Special masses were held in all Catholic churches in the state, where Saint Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, is believed to have arrived in 52 AD, bringing Christianity to India.
"It is a very important event and a big recognition for a woman born in a simple, ordinary Indian family," Orissa Archbishop Raphael Cheenath said.
"It's a matter of immense pride for us since one of our believers is being bestowed with the sainthood. It will strengthen the church in the country," Father Dominic Vechoor, chancellor of Palai diocese, where she was a nun from 1927 till her death in 1946, said prior to the canonisation.
The Central government announced yesterday that it will issue a commemorative coin in honour of Sister Alphonsa.
Christians make up 2.3 percent of India's billion-plus population, with Roman Catholics accounting for 70 percent of the minority that is largely concentrated in the country's South and Northeast.