"She suffered herself to heal the suffering of others," is how Pope Benedict XVI poignantly described Kerala nun Sister Alphonsa while declaring her a saint at a canonization ceremony at St. Peter's Square here Sunday. Saint Alphonsa became the first Indian Catholic woman to be so anointed.
Around 25,000 people of Indian origin as well as a large delegation from India watched the ceremony, which began at 12 p.m. (Indian time) and culminated at 2.40 p.m.
Alphonsa is the first woman saint of the Indian church, which claims 2,000 years of history.
The final ceremony for the canonization 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.
Reading from the Bible in Latin, the Pope said: "He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Is 25:8).
"These words of the prophet Isaiah contain the promise, which sustained Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception through a life of extreme physical and spiritual suffering. This exceptional woman, who today is offered to the people of India as their first canonized saint, was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God's grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ's and now delights in the 'rich fare and choice wines' of the heavenly kingdom (cf. Is 25:6). She wrote, 'I consider a day without suffering as a day lost'. May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one-day in paradise," the Pope said.
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 flag during the ceremony.
A 15-member official Indian delegation, led by Labor 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 canonization 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 canonized.
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.)