Bharananganam (Kerala)/Kolkata, Oct 12 : Hundreds of Christians gathered in Kottayam in Kerala today to celebrate the planned canonization of Sister Alphonsa by Pope Benedict at a special ceremony at the Vatican.
Sister Alphonsa will become India's first woman saint.
They thronged the Saint Mary church in the town of Bharananganam in Sister Alphonsa's native Kerala ahead of the occasion.
Special masses are being 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.
The priest at the Saint Mary church said they were praying for Sister Alphonsa as she had done so much for the people.
"She has helped many people, cured many illnesses and provided many with mental peace. We all are praying for her," said Joseph, priest, Saint Mary church, Bharananganam.
Meanwhile, the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata expressed their happiness at the honour awarded to Sister Alphonsa.
"It is such an honour and encouragement for India. We rejoice with the universal church and the church in India," said Sister Lysa, Missionaries of Charity.
Sister Alphonsa will be India's second saint after Gonsalo Garcia, of Portuguese parentage, who was canonized in 1862.
Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who served the poor and destitute in Kolkata, was beatified in 2003, a first step to canonization.
Alphonsa Muttathupadathu was born in Kudamaloor, a village near Kottayam, and lost her mother at a young age. She was brought up by a maternal aunt. A beautiful girl, Alphonsa received several marriage proposals early on, but was determined to enter the convent and stepped on burning chaff to disfigure herself and deter suitors. Her aunt then agreed to send her to the convent, a common practice among Catholic families in the state, to raise their social standing in the community and also escape the large dowries that are demanded for women at the time of marriage. Sickly even as a child, Alphonsa suffered from various illnesses till she died at the age of 36. Her tomb, close to the Franciscan Clarist convent where she lived, gradually became a pilgrimage site and she was credited with several miracles, particularly curing illness and disease. She was beatified in 1986 during the former Pope's visit to India, a secular country which has seen increased intolerance in the past two decades with a revival of Hindu nationalism.