VATICAN CITY (SAR NEWS) — Over 10,000 Indians both from India and overseas gathered in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City for the canonisation of Sr. Alphonsa, the first Indian woman to be declared a saint, October 12. Nine Syro-Malabar bishops joined the ceremony presided over by Pope Benedict XVI.
Pilgrims thronged the Vatican Square carrying their national flags, banners and caps very early in the morning awaiting the official opening of the Square in front of St. Peter’s Basilica to entrance card holders at 8 a.m. Each pilgrim was given a 180-page booklet which contained the canonisation rites in Italian, English, Spanish and portions in Malayalam and Greek languages. The open-air event started at 10 a.m.
“Arriving early this morning to Rome by Alitalia flight from New York, I was surprised to see so many Indians in the airport. On hearing it was the canonisation of Sr. Alphonsa, I cancelled my onward flight to Milan and dumped my bags in a hotel,” said Steve Joseph who was on a business trip to Milan and a first- time visitor to Rome.
Speaking to SAR News, the Rome correspondent standing next to him in the line, for over one hour for security clearance to the piazza at the Vatican City’s Sant’ Anna gate, Joseph got his entrance ticket from someone who had an extra card.
After x-raying handbag and passing through metal detector he joined the people seated on plastic chairs in the blazing October sun for preparatory prayers for the canonisation of four Blessed, including Sr. Alphonsa. The 45-minute prayer consisted of a reading from the writings of the four saints who were scheduled for canonisation and a prayer with a song interlude. It started at 9.15 a.m. (Rome time).
At 10 a.m. (1.30 pm IST) the Pope and the concelebrants came in a procession to the open-air podium and altar in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Four giant television screens set up in the piazza helped the faithful to follow the events in detail.
While the Vatican Television supplied live feeds, the Vatican Radio covered the events live in Italian, German, Portuguese, Spanish and English languages in short and medium wave as well as on FM transmissions.
The canonisation procedure started with the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation
for the Saints, Salesian Cardinal Angelo Amato, reading a brief biography of the four saints (Italian Father Gaetano Errico, Swiss Sister Bernarda Butler, Indian Sister Alphonsa and an Ecuadorian laywoman Narcisa di Gesu Martillo Moran) and presenting them for canonisation. The litany of the saints sung in Latinfollowed by the Pope proclaiming them saints. While the choir and assembly sang Alleluia, relics of the saints were solemnly brought to the altar.
Franciscan Clarist Congregation (FCC) Mother General Sister Ceelia carried a small piece of Sister Alphonsa’s bone in a highly ornate monstrance flanked by vice postulator Father Francis Vadakkel and lay representative and senior Kerala politician K.M. Mani.
The solemn Eucharistic celebration continued with the singing of Gloria in Latin.
The FCC Delhi provincial Sister Joncy read the second reading at from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (4:12-14,19-20) in English.
14 Indian Saints and Blesseds:
Sister Alphonsa is the second from India to be canonised in the Catholic Church. The first was Vasai-born Gonzalo Garcia, a Franciscan monk born to an Indian mother and a Portuguese father.
He was killed in 1597 in Nagasaki during missionary work. Garcia was canonised along with 25 others in 1862.
Currently there are 14 Indian or India-connected causes for canonisation in various stages of investigation. Among the beatified are Kerala-born Father Kuriakose Elias Chaavara,
Thevarparambil Kunjachen of Ramapuram, Sister Mariam Thresia and Sister Euphrasia; Blessed Joseph Vaz and Venerable Agnelo de Souza from Goa and Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
The Vatican took more than 50 years to scrutinise Sister Alphonsa’s life and work before conferring sainthood on her.
The Indian Church, believed to be founded by St. Thomas, one of the apostles, in A.D. 52, makes up 2.3 per cent of the billion-plus population of the country. The Roman Catholic Church in India, spread over the Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites, constitutes nearly 70 per cent of theIndian Christian population, according to Church authorities.