Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Venerable St. Alphonsa, first canonized Indian woman saint

Saint Alphonsa (19 August 1910 - 28 July 1946), a Syro-Malabar Catholic Franciscan nun with  an extraordinary will power and perseverance  is happened to be the  first  ever canonized native Indian saint  of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church of the Saint Thomas Christian community. They are the followers of St. Thomas, the apostle  who established in AD 52 seven and half churches on the Malabar coast, Kerala. This posthumous honor came to her in 2008.  She was an indomitable woman of  commitment and was never swept away by the materialistic aspiration of the world. 


Born on 19 August 1910 in the village of Arpookara in the princely state of Travancore (now Kerala) as Anna  Muttathupadathu in a rich Syro-Malabar Nasrani family, she was locally known as Alphonsamma, Here parents were Cherian Ousep and Mary Muttathupadathu in Kudamalloor, near Kottayam.  This lies within the Archdiocese of Changanassery.


Nicknamed Annakkutty (little Anna), despite being from a rich family Anna's  early childhood was not a happy one with the loss of her loving mother at a young age.  She was raised by her foster mother who did not give her love and affection as  normally children of her age would expect at that time. Consequently, she went through untold sufferings in her household.  With her great-uncle, Father Joseph Muttathupadathu paying attention to her studies, she did her schooling  in Arpookara in 1916. Upon receiving  her First Communion on 27 November 1917, Anna moved over to other school in  1918 in Muttuchira. Her foster mother wanted to get her married off pretty soon so that she could settle down as a house wife in a rich family.

However, in the case of Anna  it was God's edit to make her look at life differently. Not attracted by the the material happiness and the accompanying trappings that would have made her  life enjoyable to the fullest extent, Anna thought  it differently. She wanted to do something that appealed to her heart and soul and not to her sensuous mind. She took to the life of nun hood, shunned and  sacrificed all her material fortune.  She felt her joy was in the service to God and dedication to Jesus Christ. It is believed to avoid  forced marriage in 1923, Anna inflicted herself  a severe injury that resulted in the burning of her feet which left her  permanently disabled.

Anna became a member of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation,  and with their help she successfully completed her schooling.
At the Clarist convent at Bharananganam, Kottayam district, Anna received the postulant's veil on 2 August 1928 and took the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception in honour of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whose feast day it was. In May 1929 Sister Alphonsa   became a teacher in Malayalam High School at Vazhappally. In August 1931, Alphonsa  at Bharananganam  completed the novitiate and took her first vows.

Saint Alphnosa. www stalphonsamissionva org
Between  1930–1935 and also later period, Sister Alphonsa's health was a major concern and her teaching assignments at high school  were frequently interrupted. Till 1945, her health condition was not satisfactory as she experienced some kind of health problem then and there. In her last days she had gastroenteritis and severe liver problems and ultimately she died on 28 July 1946. She was buried at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Bharananganam, Travancore (present day (Kottayam) in the Diocese of Palai. Despite her bouts of pain and suffering, never had she lagged behind her teaching assignments.
Postal stamp 2008 in honor of Saint Alphonsa. Syro Malabar Church 

St Mary’s Forane Church in Bharananganam Tomb of Saint Alphonsa/en.wikipedia.org

Two things that may be worthy of mention are her ability to shun materialistic life and the capacity to take life as it comes. She thought, just like Christ, the Lord willed she had to suffer for the sake of others. It  is quite amazing that she patiently brooked her physical suffering, without giving up her trust in Christ. The more she suffered, the deeper became her trust in the Lord.

Like Success
It was after her death several miraculous interventions happened, often involving children of the convent school where she used to teach. Two of these cases were submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints as proof of her miraculous intervention. The continuing cures are chronicled in the magazine Passion Flower.
After confirmation of some miraculous events, on 2 December 1953, Cardinal Tisserant inaugurated the diocesan process for her beatification and Alphonsa was declared a Servant of God. In 1985, Pope John Paul II formally approved a miracle attributed to her intercession and on 9 July she became "Venerable Sr. Alphonsa". 

Pope John Paul II, on his  his Apostolic Pilgrimage to India, beautified  Venerable Sister Alphonsa along with Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, T.O.C.D., at Kottayam, on 8 February 1986. The latter was beautified because in December 1936, it is claimed that Sister Alphonsa was cured from her ailments through the intervention of the Kuriakose Elias Chavara.

The Pope admitted that Sister Alphonsa  constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God. In her letter to her spiritual director, she mentioned: ".....as my good Lord Jesus loves me so very much, I sincerely desire to remain on this sick bed and suffer not only this, but anything else besides, even to the end of the world. I feel now that God has intended my life to be an oblation, a sacrifice of suffering" (20 November 1944)....".

On Sunday, 12 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced her canonization at a ceremony at Saint Peter's Square in the presence of a large gathering including people from Kerala, Present among them was a 10-year-old Kerala boy Jinil Joseph who was cured of his birth defect   clubfoot. In 1999, the Vatican officials were of the unanimous opinion  that the boy's leg was miraculously healed after prayers to sister Alphonsa.
Commemorative coin released by the Reserve Bank of India.en wikipedia org
Saint Alphonsa's life was one of extreme physical suffering, spiritual enduring and personal sacrifices.To honor her, the Reserve Bank of India issued a Birth centenary Commemorative coin in 2009.

Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Alphonsa