Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Tens of thousands of pilgrims from the four corners of the world crowded St. Peter's Square for the canonization of an Italian, a Swiss sister, an Indian sister, and an Ecuadorian laywoman. They are Gaetano Errico (1791-1860), a priest and the founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary; Sr. Maria Bernarda (Verena) Bütler (1848-1924), founder of the congregation of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians; Sr. Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception (Anna Muttathupadathu) (1910-1946), of the Congregation of Claretian Franciscans; Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran (1832- 1869).
For the Indian Church, it is a first: Sr. Alfonsa is the first Indian woman saint, which is why there were thousands of Indians at the ceremony, especially priests and sisters, and all of the Indian flags waving each time the name of the newly canonized saint was pronounced during the liturgy.
In his homily, Benedict XVI recalled Alfonsa's short life, marked by "extreme physical and spiritual sufferings." "This exceptional woman, who today is offered to the people of India as their first canonized saint, was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. 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 (cf. Is 25:6). She wrote, 'I consider a day without suffering as a day lost.' May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise." In speaking of the "heavenly banquet," the pope is referring to the liturgy of the day, the 28th Sunday in ordinary time, in which the Gospel reading tells about a king preparing for his son's wedding, and inviting everyone to the banquet. But some "guests of the first hour" refuse, "because they are drawn by various interests." The king then seeks new banqueters "to fill the room."
"But the generosity of God," the pontiff continues, "must meet with the free consent of man. It is precisely this generous path that those whom we today venerate as saints have traveled. In baptism, they received the wedding garment of divine grace, they kept it pure or purified it and made it splendid in the course of their life through the sacraments. Now they are taking part in the wedding banquet of heaven." He recalls that the final banquet is anticipated by the Eucharist, at which "we must participate with the wedding garment of his grace. If it happens that we soil or even tear this garment through sin, the goodness of God does not reject us or abandon us to our fate, but offers us with the sacrament of reconciliation the possibility of restoring the wedding garment to the integrity necessary for the feast."
And precisely the sacrament of reconciliation was the mission of Gaetano Errico. "How many wounds of the soul," Benedict XVI said, "did he heal in this way! How many people did he bring to reconcile themselves with God through the sacrament of forgiveness! In this way, St. Gaetano Errico became an expert in the 'science' of forgiveness, and he took care to teach it to his missionaries, urging them: 'God, who does not want the death of the sinner, is always more merciful than his ministers; for this reason, be as merciful as you can be, because you will find mercy with God."
Speaking after this in German and in Spanish, the pontiff recalled the mission of Maria Bernarda Bütler, who became a missionary first in Ecuador, and then - after her exile - in Colombia.
Of the young Ecuadorian laywoman Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán, the pope highlighted her simplicity, but also her "passionate love for Jesus, who brought her to undertake a journey of intense prayer and mortification, and to identify herself increasingly with the mystery of the Cross . . . . [offering] a captivating testimony and a splendid example of a life entirely dedicated to God and to men."
Thanking the Lord for the "singular beauty" of these saints, the pope invited all to imitate them: "may their example encourage us; may their teachings guide and comfort us; may their intercession support us in our daily struggles, so that we too may come one day to share with them and with all the saints in the joy of the eternal banquet in the heavenly Jerusalem."