India’s First Female Saint
And no, it’s not Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Pope Benedict XVI canonized Sister Alphonsa Bharanangnam at a Mass today in St. Peter’s Square.
She was one of four new saints proclaimed today by the Pope. The others include Italian priest Father Gaetano Errico, Sister Maria Bernarda, a Swiss-born nun, and Ecuadoran laywoman Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran.
Sister Alphonsa Bharanangnam was born in India’s Christian heartland of Kerala.
In the Pope’s homily at her canonization Mass, he recalled how she stepped on hot coals to disfigure her feet in order to avoid an arranged marriage and instead dedicate herself to religious life.
As a nun, St. Alphonsa lived with “extreme physical and spiritual suffering,” the Holy Father said, before dying in 1946 at the age of 36.
Said Benedict, “May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise.”
A delegation of Indian pilgrims traveled to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony. It took place at a time when intense persecution of India’s small Christian minority by Hindu zealots has erupted in the Indian state of Orissa, India’s International Business Times noted in its coverage of the event.
St. Alphonsa’s canonization “is a very important event and a big recognition for a woman born in a simple, ordinary Indian family,” Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Orissa told the Business Times. “At this time of suffering, it will help us and inspire us.”
— Tom McFeely