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She blended love and faith

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is elevating Blessed Alphonsa to the status of a saint in Vatican today. This is indeed a rare gift God Almighty is presenting to the Indian Church. Let us heartily thank Him for this great gift.

The honour of being the first consummate Indian saint goes to Alphonsa. She was born and brought up in India and lived an ascetic life here. The first Indian woman saint is also Sr. Alphonsa.

She was born as the fourth child of Joseph and Mary Muttathupadathu at Kudamaloor near Kottayam in Kerala on August 19, 1910. She was christened Anna on August 27, 1910. Since her mother passed away three months after her birth, Anna was brought up by her godmother and maternal aunt Annamma Murickan. She received her first Holy Communion on November 27, 1917. Inspired by the biography of St Therese of Lissieux, she was determined to become a nun. When her foster mother sought to coerce her into marriage, she burnt her feet in a pit of smouldering chaff to disfigure herself. Later on, her foster mother relented and allowed her to become a nun. She joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation at Bharananganam in 1927. On August 2, 1928 she received the veil of the postulants and took the name of Alphonsa. On May 19, 1930 she was granted the habit of the Clares and served as teacher at a school at Vakakkad for a year. On August 12, 1935 she joined the novitiate. On August 12, 1936 she took her perpetual vows. As she was plagued by repeated spells of illnesses she underwent great suffering. She had a severe attack of haemorrage but was miraculously cured through the intercession of Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara. On September 18, 1941 she was frightened out of her wits by a thief and she grew very ill and lost her memory temporarily. She was administered the last sacraments on September 29, 1941. But to everyone’s pleasant surprise, she got well and regained her memory the next day. However, in July 1945, she again fell ill. She was afflicted with severe stomach ache which finally led to her death. On July 28, 1949 she flew off to the lap of her Maker.

The most striking quality of her life is her love of God. She was determined to live for God from her childhood: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and daily follow me” (St.Luke:9.23)

It was this devotion to God that prompted her to go to the extent of disfiguring herself by burning her feet when her foster mother attempted to force her into marriage. Her love of God never wavered even when she was afflicted with severe illnesses. Just as she loved God, she loved her fellow men. She forgave all those who criticised her without understanding the problems she was facing owing to illness. In fact, she accepted criticism and ill-treatment with patience and love. Alphonsa’s life indeed serves as an excellent role model for a life of love without losing faith and hope even in the face of unbearable suffering.

The Biblical passage the church has assigned for reading and meditation on St. Alphonsa’s Feast Day, July 28, refers to the grains of wheat that fall into the ground and decay:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (St. John 12:24)

St. Alphonsa fully comprehended the meaning of this passage and lived accordingly. Rt. Rev. Dr. Mar George Alencherry

Bishop of Thuckalay

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