Sr Alphonsa’s Canonization: What Did Not Get Reported

Media reports can be distorted with regard to the number of participants. Several reports said there were roughly 25,000 Indians. An equal number said 5,000. Definitely there were more than the latter number; it could easily be seen from the Indian tricolour waved in St Peter’s Square. Indian delegation was far numerous than any other of the three countries: Italy, Ecuador or Switzerland whose saints were canonized. The Italians with over 20 big buses coming from Naples could not counter the Indian population gathered from America, Europe, India, locals and elsewhere. Their call to Rome seemed very motivated as one from the U.S. told quite emotionally, “I have never been to Rome, I did not come to see Rome, but I could not think of staying back home when my sister is being raised to the highest honour in the church.”


Latin Ritual Greek to Syro-Malabar Rite

Many missed out on the central point of the canonization as the declaration was read out in Latin after the brief life sketches were presented by the Cardinal Prefect. The applause at the very mention of the name of the saint drawing earlier was more than what was received at this point. Many thought the carrying up of the relics of the saints to the altar accompanied by the vice postulators was the main point.


The ceremony as a whole mostly in Latin, was packed ritual, which to some people lacked devotion. For the people who milled around the piazza before 8.00am (awaiting 10 am show), it was a celebration, all round joy was visible. Even the non-concelebrating priests in the enclosures were seen often waving to the camera while it was turned on them. TV camera men could refrain from focussing on the audience from the front, in close ups, but could do so largely in long shots and from the back and overhead.


Every now and then we had large groups of tourists walking in, speaking loudly in their language. One wonders why tourists can not be stopped from entering inside the piazza during the two hours of the ceremony. Obviously the many policemen patrolling the areas simply can’t silence the tourists who see St. Peter’s merely as a tourist spot.


Most of the Malayalees, about 10, 000 (according to a very conservative estimate) were Syro-Malabar people who did not even follow the structure of the Latin mass. At Gloria one guy shouted to his chum right from below the altar “thudangiyitte ullado” (just started only man). Some other guys were seen constantly standing up on the chairs and talking on their cell-phones, presumably reporting live from the piazza. It was really interesting to see Syro-Malabar people attending Latin mass (more so, it was in LATIN itself) like at an ulsavam (festival) in Kerala. Like our chettans (elder brothers) at a temple ulsavam. 


The ceremony was just two hours 10 minutes long — short much though– one could see a visibly tired Pope rushing a bit towards the end.


To many the pope giving communion on the tongue to people kneeling was a strange sight. One asked, “Could we argue, may be Jesus did the same at the last supper?”  “No comments” on that!


Alphonsa’s  Aluva (Kerala) based Franciscan Clarist Congregation (also founded in Aluva) is the largest congregation in Kerala, so also in India.


Finally is Alphonsa the first Indian saint ‘? Some people want to say so, as Gonsalo Garcia, the only other Indian saint had a Portuguese father (himself a capuchin brother-catechist unlike many media reports who called him a Jesuit) was part of a group of Jesuits hanged in Nagasaki.


Vigil Service
As regards the vigil programme organized by the Indian Priests, Sisters, Brothers Union (IPSBU) probably things were better as a prayer experience, because Jesuit Fr. Jacob Srampickal director of Communication studies at Gregorian helped everyone pray for some 90 minutes.


Fr Srampickal had a 24-minute documentary on Sr Alphonsa’s life made from two fictional videos from Kerala which set the tone for the evening. He followed up the prayerful starter with a short reflection on why Sr Alphonsa took to suffering and stressed the importance of her life for today’s people.


We had a few bishops too plus the Indian delegation of 8 minsters and ex-ministers led by Oscar Fernandes, the superior general of the FCCs (Sr Alphonsa’s congregation), the Indian Ambassador plus about 4,000 people packed inside and outside  the church . Coincidentally, the same church was booked by the Gaetano Errico group from Naples for their prayer service, for the saint from Italy, to be canonized along with Sr Alphonsa.  And so Indians had to conclude their prayer within 90 mts. 


Mr Oscar Fernandes, Bishop Chittilappaly, and the FCC Superior General Sr Ceelia spoke briefly before the conclusion. Some fine hymns well sung in English, Hindi and Malayalam enhanced devotion and helped prayer. The FCCs gave flags to be waived at St Peter’s square the next day. The IPSBU did a commendable job in their effort to bring together all the rites in such short notice at the start of the new scholastic year.


On a sour note

 It was indeed a moment also to unite the various rites together. The Government had sent Oscar Fernandes as the official head of the Indian delegation.  It was a pity that he played hardly any role at the canonization ceremony. Mr Oscar could have been the one carrying one of the lights to accompany the holy relics (instead of Mr KM Mani). And even when Oscar did really speak at the Vigil Service his message was ignored by Catholic media that was mostly controlled by the Syro-Malabar personnel.

Prayer for the persecuted Christians in India was put in the appendix, missing a golden opportunity of solidarity in the context of the “glorification of the sufferings of Sr Alphonsa”. We could also have collected 4,000 signatures and submitted it alnog with a memorandum on behalf of IPSBU to the Indian Ambassdor who came for the programme. 


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