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|St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, F.C.C.|
|First canonized Indian Catholic saint|
|Born||19 August 1910
Kudamaloor, Arpookara, Travancore State, British Raj (present-day Kerala, India)
|Died||28 July 1946 (aged 35)
Bharananganam, Palai, Travancore State, British Raj (present-day Kerala, India)
|Honored in||Syro-Malabar Church|
|Beatified||8 February 1986, Kottayam, Kerala, India by Pope John Paul II|
|Canonized||12 October 2008, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI|
|Major shrine||Saint Alphonsama Church, Bharananganam, Kerala, India.|
Early lifeShe was born Anna Muttathupadathu, the fourth child of Cherian Ouseph and Mary Muttathupadathu, in Kudamalloor, near Kottayam, on 19 August 1910. She was baptized on the following 26 August. Alphonsamma, as she was locally known, was born in Arpookara, a village in the princely state of Travancore, which was under the British Raj at the time. Today the place is called Kottayam District, within the state of Kerala, India. This lies within the Archdiocese of Changanassery.
Her parents nicknamed her Annakkutty (little Anna) She had a poor, difficult childhood and experienced loss and suffering early on in life. Anna's mother died when she was young, so her maternal aunt raised her. Hagiographies describe her early life as one of suffering at the hands of her stern foster mother and the teasing of schoolchildren. Anna was educated by her great-uncle, Father Joseph Muttathupadathu. When Anna was three years old, she contracted eczema and suffered for over a year.
In 1916 Anna started school in Arpookara. She received her First Communion on 27 November 1917. In 1918, she was transferred to a school in Muttuchira. In 1923, Anna's feet were burnt when she fell into a pit of burning chaff; local hagiographies describe this as a self-inflicted injury in order to avoid her foster mother's attempt to arrange a marriage for, and thereby to fulfill her desire for becoming a Religious Sister instead. This accident left her permanently disabled.
Sister AlphonsaWhen it became possible, Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, a religious congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis, and through them, completed her schooling.
Anna arrived at the Clarist convent at Bharananganam, Kottayam district, on Pentecost Sunday 1927. She received the postulant's veil on 2 August 1928, and in May 1929 was assigned to teach at Malayalam High School at Vazhappally. Her foster mother died in 1930. Three days later she resumed her studies at Changanacherry, while working as a temporary teacher at a school at Vakakkad.
On 19 May 1930 Anna entered the novitiate of the congregation at Bharananganam and received the religious habit, taking the religious name of Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception at that time. On 11 August 1931, she completed the novitiate and took her first vows. Sister Alphonsa took her permanent vows on 12 August 1936. Two days later she returned to Bharananganam from Changanacherry.
Sister Alphonsa then taught high school at St. Alphonsa Girl's High School, but was often sick and unable to teach. For most of her years as a Clarist Sister she endured serious illness.
Health declinesIn December 1936, it is claimed that she was cured from her ailments through the intervention of the Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara (who was beatified at the same ceremony as she), but on 14 June 1939 she was struck by a severe attack of pneumonia, which left her weakened. On 18 October 1940, a thief entered her room in the middle of the night. This traumatic event caused her to suffer amnesia and weakened her again.
Her health continued to deteriorate over a period of months. She received extreme unction on 29 September 1941. The next day it is believed that she regained her memory, though not complete health. Her health improved over the next few years, until in July 1945 she developed a stomach problem that caused vomiting.
DeathShe died on 28 July 1946, aged 35. She is buried at Bharananganam, Travancore (present day Kerala) in the Diocese of Palai.
During the last year of her life she came to know the later-Bishop of Kerala Sebastian Valopilly, a priest at the time, who frequently brought her communion. This bishop became famous in Kerala for championing the cause of poor people from all religious backgrounds who had come to live Thalassery as a result of shortages elsewhere. He was also the person who reported the miracle attributed to St. Alphonsa's intercession.
VenerationClaims of her miraculous intervention began almost immediately upon her death, and often involved the children of the convent school where she used to teach. The cause for the canonization of Sister Alphonsa began on 2 December 1953 in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Diocese of Palai and she was declared a Servant of God. She was declared Venerable on 9 July 1985 by Pope John Paul II. Her beatification was declared 8 February 1986 by Pope John Paul II at Kottayam.
Hundreds of miraculous cures are claimed for her intervention, many of them involving straightening of clubbed feet, possibly because of her having lived with deformed feet herself. 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 PassionFlower.
On Sunday, 12 October 2008, Pope Benedict XVI announced her canonization at a ceremony at Saint Peter's Square.
MiraclesThe miracle attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican for proceeding with her canonization was the healing of the club foot of an infant in 1985.
Bishop Sebastian reported:
About ten years ago, when I was in a small village in Wayanad outside Manatavady, I saw a boy walking with some difficulty, using a stick. As he approached me I noted that both of his feet were turned upside down. I had a stack of holy cards in my pocket with Alphonsa's picture on them, so I pulled one of them out and gave it to the boy. When I told the boy that he should pray to this woman for the cure of his feet, the boy-he was quite smart for a ten-year-old boy-replied, "But I'm a Muslim, and, besides, I was born this way." I replied that God is very powerful, so let's pray.A few months later,a boy and a gentleman appeared at the house here.I didn't recognize them at first but soon learned that it was the Muslim boy with his father, here to tell me that his feet had been cured through their prayers to Sister Alphonsa. They showed me the calluses on the tops of his feet, and you could see the marks which had been made from the years of his walking with his feet turned under. Before they left, the three of us had our pictures taken.The boy had reportedly taken Alphonsa's picture card and asked Alphonsa to help fix his feet. Several days afterwards one of his feet supposedly turned around. He and the other members of his family then prayed for the cure of the second foot, which also supposedly turned around later. The boy did not convert to Christianity.
ShrineHer tomb in Bharananganam has become a pilgrimage site as miracles have been reported by some faithful.
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During the Apostolic Pilgrimage to India of Pope John Paul II, the Pope said as part of his speech at Nehru Stadium, Kottayam, on 8 February 1986, that:
"From early in her life, Sister Alphonsa experienced great suffering. With the passing of the years, the heavenly Father gave her an ever fuller share in the Passion of his beloved Son. We recall how she experienced not only physical pain of great intensity, but also the spiritual suffering of being misunderstood and misjudged by others. But she constantly accepted all her sufferings with serenity and trust in God, being firmly convinced that they would purify her motives, help her to overcome all selfishness, and unite her more closely with her beloved divine Spouse. She wrote to her spiritual director: "Dear Father, 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). She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the Cross through her love of the crucified Lord."
CanonizationPope Benedict XVI authorized Sister Alphonsa's name for canonization on 1 June 2007, a process that was started 55 years earlier. She had been beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 in Kottayam, 40 years after her death, in recognition of the numerous miracles through intercessory prayers to her.
The miracle that was attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican for canonization was the healing of the club foot of a Muslim infant in 1985 in the district of Thalassery of Kerala State. She was elevated to sainthood on 12 October 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI. The final ceremony for the canonization began on 12 October 2008 with the holy relics of Alphonsa being presented to the Pope by Sister Celia, Mother General of the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, the congregation to which Sister Alphonsa belonged. Sister Celia was accompanied by Vice Postulator Father Francis Vadakkel and former Kerala minister K. M. Mani, all holding lit candles. Speaking in English, the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa a saint, after reading excerpts from the Holy Bible. The Pope himself read out the biography of Alphonsa after the ceremony.
In the homily, Pope Benedict XVI recalled Saint Alphonsa's life as one of "extreme physical and spiritual suffering."
"This exceptional woman ... was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father", the pope stated. "By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God's grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ's and now delights in the 'rich fare and choice wines' of the heavenly kingdom.""(Her) heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance in the midst of deep suffering remind us that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial", the pope stated before the ceremony ended.
Pope Benedict XVI also invited people "to pray for reconciliation and peace for some situations that that are causing alarm and great suffering," specifically citing the civil war situation in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and "the violence against Christians in Iraq and India." .
The ceremony was attended by around 25,000 people of Indian origin - many waving Indian flags - as well as a large delegation from India. A 15-member official Indian delegation, led by Labour Minister Oscar Fernandes, attended the ceremony.
With Sister Alphonsa being raised to the list of saints by the Vatican on Sunday, the Catholic Church in Kerala celebrated the canonization of the first Indian saint from an Indian Rite. Across the State, church bells tolled as Pope Benedict XVI named her St. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception.
The cemetery where the Franciscan Clarist Sister was buried 62 years ago at St Mary’s Forane Church at Bharananganam has now been turned into the chapel which houses her mortal remains. The canonization was greeted with the bursting of firecrackers and the toll of church bells. St Mary’s Forane church at Kudmaloor, the home parish of the saint, also celebrated a special Mass.