11/10/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Kerala celebrating St-Alphonsa, first Indian saint

by Nirmala Carvalho
Celebrations in honour of the Clarist nun end in the presence of former Indian President Abul Kalam and Card Leonardo Sandri. In mentioning the recent wave of anti-Christian violence the prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches said: “Orissa is a name that is alive in our hearts and on our lips as well as those of the people of Europe—we are with the persecuted Church. We ask for freedom of religion in order to live in freedom and peace.”
Bharananganam (AsiaNews) – More than 100,000 people took part in celebrations for the proclamation of the first Indian saint, Clarist sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception, who was canonised on 12 October by Benedict XVI.

Card Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation of Eastern Churches, and former Indian President Abul Kalam, were present yesterday at the ceremonies, the last of the nine days devoted to the celebrations.

Fr Paul Theklat, editor of the influential Satyadeepam newspaper and spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Church, talked to AsiaNews about the day’s great event.

“The great function took place at the church of St-Mary in Bharananganam where the saint is buried. More than 50 bishops took part along with many prelates from other denominations and sister Churches,” he said. “Political leaders like state’s opposition leader Ommen Chandi and state ministers also attended the event.”

Card Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi and Moran Baselios Cleemis, major archbishop of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malabar were among the prelates in attendance

The nine-day celebration programme was organised by the diocese of Palai where the saint was born in 1910 in co-operation with the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council as an act of thanksgiving to God for the gift of Saint-Alphonsa, born Anna Muttathupadathu, and for her canonisation.

Speaking to those present, former President Kalam said the “greatest tribute to the memory of St. Alphonsa is to emulate the ideals of love and compassion for which she lived her short life of suffering, penance and prayer.”

“Each one of us must take a vow that we would remove the pain of at least one person every month as St. Alphonsa had shown through her personal example,” he added.

“Blessed is the land where Sister Alphonsa walked and walked with us,” said the former head of state as he read a brief poem he wrote in honour of the saint who dreamt greater heights and so “achieved the greatest.”

Cardinal Sandri, who arrived in India on 5 November, took part in various initiatives dedicated to the Clarist nun. Yesterday he also conducted Mass so that religious freedom may be preserved in the “land of non-violence.”

Noting that non-violence is only the path to fight violence the cardinal mentioned the recent brutal acts against the Christian communities in the state of Orissa.

The prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches had already spoken last Friday with Card Varkey Vithyathil about the events which since late August have lead to the death of more than a hundred people in an escalation of inhuman acts.

“Orissa,” he told the Syro-Malabar archbishop, “is a name that is alive in our hearts and on our lips as well as those of the people of Europe—we are with the persecuted Church. We ask for freedom of religion in order to live in freedom and peace.”

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