Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India Celebrates Twin Canonizations

Sts. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia Eluvanthingal were added to the communion of saints Nov. 23 at the Vatican.

More than 2,000 priests, all wearing vestments bearing pictures of two newly canonized Indian saints, participated in a Nov. 29 Mass of thanksgiving near Sochi, India.
More than 2,000 priests, all wearing vestments bearing pictures of two newly canonized Indian saints, participated in a Nov. 29 Mass of thanksgiving near Sochi, India. (photo: Anto Akkara)

KOCHI, India — The Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in southern Kerala celebrated the canonizations of Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia Eluvanthingal with a “festival of faith” at Rajagiri Valley near Kochi, India, on Nov. 29.

“Let me tell you a truth. I have never addressed such a gathering like this in my life,” remarked an ecstatic Cardinal George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, which is based in Kerala, in his opening remarks at the conclusion of the thanksgiving Mass.

The Mass was attended by more than 70,000 faithful, along with more than 2,000 priests, 10,000 religious sisters and 70 bishops from across India. The two-hour Mass of thanksgiving in the Malayalam language, interspersed with prayers in several languages, was led by Cardinal Alencherry and Cardinal Baselios mar Cleemis, the major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio, the apostolic nuncio to India. Cardinal Cleemis is the president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Both Sts. Kuriakose and Euphrasia, who were canonized at the Vatican on Nov. 23, along with four others, hail from the Syro-Malabar Church, a sui juris (self-governing) Eastern Catholic Church that accounts for half of the nearly 7 million Christians in Kerala. It traces its roots to St. Thomas the Apostle, who reached Kerala coast in the year 52 in the company of spice merchants from the Middle East.

“We must have more saints,” said Archbishop Pennacchio in remarks after the Mass of thanksgiving. “Father Chavara and Sister Euphrasia responded to the call of Jesus — ‘The harvest is plenty but laborers are few.’”

Among those who accompanied the relics of both the saints to the altar at Mass were two 10-year-olds, Maria Rosa and Jewel Jenson, whose miraculous healings due to the saints’ intercession were approved by the Vatican. Rosa was cured of an eye condition, and Jenson was cured of a throat ailment.

“It was a wonderful experience, Thomas Vadakkel, a farmer who had traveled more than 50 miles by public transport for the celebration. “I have never seen so many fathers and sisters together.”


Founded New Congregations

Born in 1805, Kuriakose Chavara was ordained a priest in 1829. Two years later, he co-founded the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, the first indigenous congregation in India that has now more than 3,000 professed male members.

In 1866, Father Chavara also founded the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel for women religious. The congregation has more than 6,500 sisters — including St. Euphrasia (1877-1952). St. Kuriakose died in 1871.

In 2008, another Syro-Malabar Catholic sister, St. Alphonsa of Bharananganam, was canonized as the first saint from India. She was a Clarist sister.

Describing the two new saints as “models of deep spirituality,” Archbishop Pennacchio reminded the gathering of the need “to foster more vocations.”

“St. Thomas the Apostle and, later, missionaries like St. Francis Xavier spread the faith in India,” the apostolic nuncio said. “Now, it is the turn of the Indian Church to bring the joy of the Gospel to other parts of the world.”

At the “festival of faith” after the Mass, the lives of both saints were portrayed in a colorful dance sequence by 60 school students as portraits of the saints were projected on screens with words depicting their lives of sanctity.

“This (canonizations) challenge us to lead more spiritual lives,” Cardinal Alencherry said. “Let us be more committed in our prayer lives.”

The head of the Syro-Malabar Church, which has been in full communion with the Latin Church in Rome since 1599, pointed out that Pope Francis had described Kerala as a cradle of vocations when he addressed more than 6,000 Catholics from Kerala gathered at St. Peter’s Basilica on Nov. 24 for a thanksgiving Mass following the canonization ceremonies.

“We have to continue to foster more vocations,” urged Cardinal Alencherry. The Syro-Malabar Church has one of the highest vocation ratios in the world with nearly one priest or religious sister for every 50 Catholics.


Christian Heritage Recognized

Kerala’s Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, an Orthodox Catholic, addressed the public meeting and attempted to give due justice to the joy and significance of the canonizations.

“With these canonizations, the 2,000-year-old Christian heritage of Kerala has been recognized and honored,” said Chandy.

St. Kuriakose, while being “a tower of spirituality,” was also “the pioneer of social reformation in Kerala society,” the chief minister said, adding that the saint’s call for Pallikkoru pallikkoodam (a school for each church) had chiefly paved the foundation for the education revolution our state.”

Kerala is the second-most literate and educationally advanced state in India. Catholics make up 12% of the state’s 35 million-strong population, and the Church runs nearly half of its 15,000 private primary schools.

“By opening schools, orphanages, home for mentally challenged, old-age homes and [giving] free lunch for the poor, Father Chavara laid out the path of social reformation here,” acknowledged Chandy.

He also praised the virtues of “simple and humble” St. Euphrasia, who is known for her words, “Even if you are less in riches, don’t be short in virtues,” He called her the “patroness of families.”

Kurian Joseph, a Catholic and a judge in the federal Supreme Court of India, said the canonizations are “a big inspiration for all of us.”

“Each one of us is called to lead holy lives,” said Joseph, who is known for proclaiming his faith fearlessly in public despite being a judge of India’s highest court.

“Sainthood comes after death only.”

Register correspondent Anto Akkara writes from Bangalore, India.