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Vatican's biography of St Alphonsa

Alphonsa Muttathupadathu : Alphonsa dell'Immacolata Concezione; 19 August 1910 - 28 July 1946) is a Catholic Saint, the second person of Indian origin to be canonized as a saint by the Church and the first canonized saint of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church.Alphonsamma, as she was locally known, had a poor, difficult childhood and experienced early loss and suffering. She joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, and through them completed schooling and made her permanent vows in 1936. She taught school for years but was plagued by illness.Claims of her intervention began almost immediately upon her death, and often involved the children in the convent school where she had taught. The cause 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.

CHILDHOOD : She was born as Annakkutty (little Anna) in Kudamaloor, a village in Kottayam district, Kerala, India, to Joseph and Mary Muttathupadathu. She was baptized on 27 August 1910 at Saint Mary's Church in Kudamaloor under the patronage of Saint Anna. Anna's mother died when she was young, so her maternal aunt raised her. 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.

EDUCATION : In 1916 Anna started her schooling in Arpookara. She received First Communion on 27 November 1917. In 1918 she was transferred to the school in Muttuchira. In 1923 Anna was badly burned on her feet when she fell into a pit of burning chaff. This accident left her permanently disabled.When it became possible, Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation. She arrived at the Poor Clares convent at Bharananganam on Pentecost 1927. She received the postulant's veil on 2 August 1928 and took the name Alphonsa. In May 1929 she entered the Malayalam High School at Vazhappally. Her foster mother died in 1930.On 19 May 1930 she received her religious habit at Bharananganam. Three days later she resumed her studies at Changanacherry, while working as a temporary teacher at the school at Vakakkad. On 11 August 1931 she joined the novitiate. Anna took her permanent vows on 12 August 1936. Two days later she returned to Bharananganam from Changanacherry.

NUNHOOD : In December 1936 she was reportedly cured from her ailments through the intervention of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, 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.

DEATH : She died on 28 July 1946, aged 35. She is buried at Bharananganam, South India, in the Diocese of Palai.Her death(28th July 1946) was unnoticed by the public. The funeral was simple and thinly attended. But soon the school children , who loved her received favors through her intercession. Her tomb at Bharananganam turned into a great centre of pilgrimage attracting people from far and near.

MIRACLE : Her tomb in Bharananganam has become a pilgrimage site as miracles have been reported by some faithful. The miracle attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican for the canonization was the healing of the club foot of an infant in 1999.

Assessing of miracles : The miracle may go beyond the possibilities of nature either in the substance of the fact or in the subject, or only in the way it occurs. So three degrees of miracle are to be distinguished. The first degree is represented by resurrection from the dead (quoad substantiam). The second concerns the subject (quoad subiectum): the sickness of a person is judged incurable, in its course it can even have destroyed bones or vital organs; in this case not only is complete recovery noticed, but even wholesale reconstitution of the organs (restitutio in integrum). There is then a third degree (quoad modum): recovery from an illness, that treatment could only have achieved after a long period, happens instantaneously. 'Miracle boy': Ginil had clubfoot, but began walking after a '99 visit to Alphonsa's tomb. It was the "miraculous" cure of Ginil Joseph, a young boy suffering from clubfoot-a congenital condition in which the foot is turned inward-that's being cited for granting her sainthood. Dr Aleyamma Korah of the Vimala Hospital, Kottayam, was among those interviewed by the Church tribunal in the prelude to the canonisation. She testified that a clubfoot doesn't get corrected naturally. It can be rectified only through surgery. "This child was brought to us completely cured when he was two years old. The parents say they put the child on the tomb of Sister Alphonsamma at Bharananganam and it all happened after that," she says.Ginil's father, Shaji Jospeh, a sales tax official, recalls it was on May 11, 1999, a Saturday, when the miracle happened. "We returned from the tomb and while we were at the evening prayers, reciting the rosary, Ginil gently stood up, firmly on his feet. It was so unlike him. Earlier, his limbs used to droop almost lifeless. If this is not a miracle, what do you call it?" he says. Shaji was once a Sunday Catholic-a reference to those who attend church on obligatory days. But today, he is a firm believer in the "redeeming faith of Christianity."Already the numbers of physically challenged people making a beeline to the tomb of the nun are growing. Then there are schoolchildren, lighting candles on her tomb for faring well in exams. Some of those who have received her blessings later joined the order. "We are very happy that Blessed Alphonsa is going to be canonised," says Sister Graces at Alphonsa Convent, Bharananganam.

Stages of Canonization in the Roman Catholic Church

SERVANT OF GOD : Servant of God is a title given to certain people in several different religions, but in general usage the phrase "servant of God" is used as a description of a person believed to be pious in his or her faith tradition. Servant of God is the title given to a deceased person of the Roman Catholic Church whose life and works are being investigated in consideration for official recognition by the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church as a saint in heaven.Receiving the title Servant of God is the first of the four steps in the canonization process. The next step is being declared Venerable, upon a decree of heroicity or martyrdom by the honoree. This is followed by beatification, with the title of Blessed, after the confirmation of miracles attributed to the honoree. The final step is canonization, where the honoree would receive the title of Saint." Alphonsa's life was a constant offering to God, a victim for the love of the Lord. For her, love was suffering and suffering was love. To the sisters who saw her intense suffering and asked her how she was faring, Alphonsa would answer, "I am loving." This way of life has earned her the name, the Little Flower of Kerala. In reality there is much resemblance between the life of St. Alphonsa and St. Therese of the Child Jesus. After receiving the viaticum and the last rites of the church, she expressed her desire to be left alone."Let me rest comfortably. Don't wake me up," she requested. She quickly and joyfully brought her earthly life to a close July 28, 1946. Sister Alphonsa died, and a saint was born.Pope Benedict XVI congratulated the people of India as he presented them with their first saint and advised them to follow the example of Sister Alphonsa and offer up the suffering and persecution the Indian Christians are undergoing today to the Lord and pray for peace and reconciliation. May the example of St. Alphonsa inspire us to embrace our suffering and make it part of Jesus' suffering.

VENERABLE : In the Roman Catholic Church's, The Venerable is the style used for a person who has been posthumously declared "heroic in virtue" during the investigation and process leading to possible canonization as a saint. Before a person is considered to be venerable he or she must be declared as such by a proclamation, approved by the pope, of having lived a life that was "heroic in virtue" - the virtues being the Theological Virtues of faith, hope and charity and the Cardinal Virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.On 2 December 1953, Eugene-Gabriel-Gervais-Laurent Cardinal Tisserant inaugurated the diocesan process for her beatification. Pope John Paul II formally approved a miracle attributed to her intercession and Alphonsa was declared Servant of God on 9 July 1985. She was then known as Venerable Sister Alphonsa.

BEATIFICATION : Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic church of a dead person's accession to Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name (intercession of saints). Beatification is the third of the four steps in the canonization process. A person who is beatified is given the title "Blessed." Alphonsa was beatified along with Kuriakose Elias Chavara at Kottayam.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:"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."

CANONISATION : Pope Benedict cleared Sister Alphonsa's name for canonisation on 1 June 2007, a process that was started 55 years ago. She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986 in Kottayam, 40 years after her death, in recognition of the numerous miracles associated with her. A saint is a human being to whom has been attributed (and who has generally demonstrated) a high level of holiness and sanctity in an exemplary life of virtuous behavior. A saint is therefore not simply a believer but one who has been transformed by virtue and presents an example (often providing guidance) to other human beings striving to conform their lives to God. Such a person is often (but not always) recognized after their death by other human beings as someone who lived a divine life and who is in the Divine presence even in death. The miracle attributed to her intercession and approved by the Vatican for the canonization was the healing of the club foot of an infant in 1999.She was elevated to sainthood on 12 October 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI.The final ceremony for the canonisation began on 12th 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. 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 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 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. Even as Sr. Alphonsa was raised to the realm of saints by the Vatican on Sunday, the Catholic Church in Kerala celebrated the canonisation 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 nun 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 canonisation was greeted with the bursting of firecrackers and the toll of church bells. St Mary's Forane church at Kudmaloor, the parent parish of the saint, also celebrated a special Mass.