Sister Alphonsa: Our Own Saint Alphonsa

OCTOBER WILL be a good month to be a Christian in India. On the 12th, Anna Muttathupandathu of Kottayam will become Saint Alphonsa.

Anna was beatified by the Vatican in 1986 as the Blessed Alphonsa and on March 1, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI decided that she deserved sainthood. Two Sundays from now, she will officially become a saint — the first woman saint and the second person ever to be canonised in India.

Anna had wanted to become a saint all her life, says Father Alphonse of the fledgling parish at Vasant Kunj, the only church dedicated to her in the Delhi Archdiocese.

While getting a granite plaque ready to mark her canonisation by the Pope in Rome, he drives the point home: “Being a saint means being closer to God.” Sainthood, however, was for Alphonsa, a bit of a project. She “loved to suffer,” says the priest. She spent most of her 36 years in bed suffering from tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhoid and malaria. But she made the “best use of all her ailments by turning her life of pain into a virtue,” says Father Alphonse. “It’s like I don’t get the girl I want, so I’ll make the most of the girl I have.” Alphonsa, one is told, was a girl of wit; she would have chuckled at Father Alphonse’s analogy Perhaps he speaks so .

freely because the saint-to-be whose church he now presides, was something of a local girl. As a child, Father Alphonse remembers accompanying his parents to her tomb and asking his mother to explain why they shared the same name. “Her doctor had said (my mother) would have a difficult delivery when she was carrying me. So she had prayed to Alphonsa,” says the priest. “When I was born, I was named after her.” And to underline the fact that he alone wasn’t born under Alphonsa’s watchful gaze, he rattles off more ‘ phonse/Alphonsas’ A he knows from his hometown in Dindigul district, Tamil Nadu, that in clude a nephew, a marriage photogra pher, a teacher…

Alphonsa is indeed well on her way to spiritual stardom. So what makes her a saint while others like Mother Teresa and the Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara (who’s been waiting for more than 50 years for the papal nod) are yet to be canonised? The answer lies in one word: miracles.

According to the Catholic church, acts of faith like miracles, ironi cally, need the stamp of science. A saint needs at least 22-24 miracles, explains Father Alphonse of which four are picked as ‘proof ’. “The legs of a boy with a club-foot, became straight, after they touched Alphonsa’s grave. Doctors certified this could only be the power of prayer.” Mother Teresa’s work, he adds, was easier. She went out on the streets and brought home the poor. She was visible. “But to be inside the four walls of the convent like Alphonsa isn’t easy,” he says.

When Alphonsa died, he rues, there were only a few people to carry her coffin. After her canonisation, things will change.

Alphonsa will be everywhere. On cups, saucers, on beads to be worn around the neck. Mother Teresa, by the time of her beatification, had become a roadside musical.

ANNA MUTTATHUPANDATHU will become Saint Alphonsa on October 12. And more than 6,000 believers from Kerala are flying to Vatican City to witness her canonisation. Ten-year-old Jinil, busy playing with his brother Jubin, some 25 kilometres from the saint-to-be’s tomb, is going as well. After all, he has played a pivotal part in her canonisation. It was Jinil’s testimony that finally clinched Sister Alphonsa’s sainthood.

Born club-footed, doctors had writ ten off a cure saying he would never be able to walk. His parents, Shaji Joseph, a sales tax inspector and mother, Lissy had begun their , rounds of speciality hospitals. When medicines failed to cure, relatives suggested they make a trip in 1999 to Alphonsa’s chapel in Bharaninganam and pray .

The Josephs placed the child on the tomb and prayed for hours to gether. That very night, little Jinil started walking. “We are happy we played a key role in Sister attaining sainthood. We, on our part, are in debted to her for all our happiness,” says Lissy Joseph.

Jinil has also become a tourist attraction of sorts. Those who vis it Alphonsa’s tomb also take time out to visit the Josephs. At times, the parents are pestered to reveal the ‘exact words’ of their prayer ‘that fateful day’.

Even the doctors who treated Jinil vouch for the miracle. “Jinil was born in my nursing home. His condition worsened with each passing day I couldn’t believe it when he was fully cured,” says Dr Eliayamma Cora who has been quizzed by the Vatican representative to prove the legitimacy of the miracle.

It is said that when Sister Alphonsa was on her death-bed, her mentor, Father Kuriakos Chavra, an 18th cen tury church reformer, appeared before her and blessed her.

Interestingly, in her journey to sainthood, she has pipped him to the post. “Most of the miracles attributed to her were proved, and they convinced the Vatican to move quickly to canonise her,” says Father Mathew Arackaparambil, vice postulator of the canonisation process.

“Miracles are still happening,” claims Sister Goratti of the Alphonsa Bhavan in Kudamaloor. Recently, a terminally ill new-born was cured after her parents prayed three consecutive days at the saint’s ancestral home.” Bharaninganam has a museum that houses Alphonsa’s habit, a hand fan, books, a wooden cup and other belongings. These serve as a major attraction for pilgrims. “I have given myself up completely to Jesus. Let him please Himself in his dealings with me. My only desire in this world is to suffer for love of God and to rejoice in doing it,” reads a letter on display that Alphonsa had written a few of months before her death.

Anna Kutty died young but she left behind many stories. As a teacher, she was an epitome of love and patience, says her student, 85year-old Thomas Kalappura. She taught him Malayalam and mathematics in Vakakkad School between 1932 and 1933.

It is a glorious moment for believers in the country says Father Paul ,” Thelekkat, spokesman of the SyroMalabar church. Her good looks are still fresh in the mind of 99-year-old Lakshmi Amma, her former classmate from Thonnakuzhy School. “We used to call her Venna (butter) Kutty ,” she says remembering Anna who will become Saint Alphonsa next month.

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