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Kerala cheers with crackers & bells

Kottayam, Oct. 12: Church bells chimed and firecrackers went off across Kerala this afternoon as Pope Benedict XVI declared the Blessed Alphonsa a saint of Christendom at a televised ceremony at the Vatican.

For Catholics, who make up roughly half the state’s Christian population, it was a day of double benediction: the weekly blessing at Sunday Mass plus the elevation of a nun who lived a life of prayer and penance at the convent of Poor Claires in Bharananganam, some 130km from Kochi.

Thousands of Christians packed into Mary’s Chapel at Bharananganam, where the mortal remains of the nun are interred.

Priests from all three Catholic segments — Syro-Malabar, Latin and Malankara — conducted Holy Mass at Alphonsa Chapel at one-hour intervals until the canonisation ceremony started at St Peter’s Basilica.

At least four nuns, who had seen the frail Alphonsa pacing in white cassock at St Mary’s convent in the 1940s, were among the millions who watched the canonisation on TV.

One of them, Grace Kalariparampil, said Saint Alphonsa would help spread the message of love and compassion. “That’s the message that goes out loud and clear at this turbulent juncture in the country,” she said.

The canonisation has come at a time when Christians, who make up just over 2 per cent of India’s billion-plus population, have come under attack amid long-running tensions over religious conversions.

Over 30 people have been killed and dozens of churches damaged since a Hindu leader was murdered in Orissa in August.

Students from the local St Mary’s Higher Secondary School read a social meaning in the whole process. “First, the miracle. Then she is the pride of Kerala. Above all, she was a teacher, who loved her students. This is a great impetus for us to study well,” said Class XI student Christian Joseph.

Theramma, daughter of Saint Alphonsa’s elder sister, joined the devout in offering prayers at Kudamalur, where the nun was born on August 19, 1910.

“I thank the Almighty for keeping me in good health to this day to witness the canonisation of our own child. I can’t express my joy in words at this moment,” the 74-year-old said.

Among those who had gathered at Alphonsa’s tomb were also people from other religions. “I believe in the greatness and holiness of Alphonsa. I get tremendous relief when I visit her chapel,” said library science teacher Renjith R., 25, a Hindu.

Athlete Shiny Wilson, who came with her husband, Arjuna Award-winning swimmer Wilson Cherian, and two children to pray at Kudamalur, attributed her success to Alphonsa. “I prayed to Alphonsa to help me do well,” she said.

“From now on, the Catholic Church in Kerala will have more reasons to goad the faithful to return to true Christian values,” said Father Mathew Pinakkattu in Pala.

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