India's Catholics celebrate first woman saint

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Kudamaloor (Kerala)/Kolkata, Oct 13 : Hundreds of devotees offered prayers at Saint Alphonsa's native Kudamaloor in Kerala as Pope Benedict created India's first woman saint at a special ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday.

Church bells rang and firecrackers went off as India's faithful followed the Vatican ceremony on television from Kerala, where Sister Alphonsa had lived as a nun until her death more than six decades ago.

"This is a great occasion that saint Alphonsa is being canonized. And what is not humanly possible has been ordained by the Lord. We feel that we are all blessed by the intervention of the Lord," said Sister Caramell.

Special prayers were also held in Kolkata in celebration of the canonization of Sister Alphonsa.

Hundreds of people gathered at Saint Paul's Baording School, where a mass was held in the evening to offer prayers.

"It is so appropriate at this time that we have got a saint to tell us that we should keep on giving the good news, suffer but love all. This is the significance of today's saint, not only for the Christians, but to all Indians," said Luca Sirkar, the Arch Bishop of Kolkata.

Sister Alphonsa is 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, but she 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 dowry demand from 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.

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