Sr. Alfonsa, Indian saint, model of Christian charity
by Nirmala Carvalho
Tomorrow in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI will raise to the honors of the altar the Indian religious, who dedicated her life to the poor and the underprivileged, despite her sickness and physical suffering. She is an example for the country, marked by interconfessional violence and by widespread materialism.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) - "I always remember her smiling face, all of us students knew that she was suffering from different ailments and was sick, but she was always smiling." This is the personal recollection of Fr. Francis Vadakel, 72, about Blessed Alfonsa of the Immaculate Conception, who tomorrow, October 12, will be proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XVi in St. Peter's Square.

"She was a great consolation to students during examinations" Fr. Francis continues, "she understood the anxiety of children during the exams and was a counselor and adviser to the children." There was something about her that "made her different from the others," and "grace was visible on her face." The place where she is buried - the church of Blessed Alfonsa in the district of Kottayam - is still a pilgrimage destination for people who come to her tomb to pray and leave flowers." "And not just Catholics, but many Muslims and Hindus too, attracted by the purity of her young long-suffering life and by her healing powers."

The baptismal name of the blessed is Anna Muttathupadam; she was born on August 19, 1919, in Kudamaloor, in Kerala, and at the age of 17 she entered the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception. In 1936, she took perpetual vows at the monastery of the Claretians of Malabar in Bharananganam. Her work was teaching, but she soon had to leave it for health reasons. She bravely endured her illness until her death, on July 28, 1946, at the age of just 36. The bishop of Palai began the diocesan process of beatification in 1955, and on November 9, 1984, she was declared venerable. On February 8, 1986, Pope John Paul II beatified her in Kottayam, in India, together with another Indian blessed, Kuriakose Elias Chavara.

“This is a great moment for the Indian Church," says Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, head of the Indian bishops' conference, "God has raised up to the highest honour a person who the world considered useless and sickly. Today Blessed Alfonsa will be a living catechesis that the Catholic Church produces children who are holy bearing fruit, and in a twist of irony curing the sick, the humble one who understands the intimacy of union with Christ through suffering.”

The cardinal compares the life of the blessed with the experience of St. Teresa of Lisieux, in which the brevity of life marked by "physical suffering" is exalted by the "salvific dimension" that is present in faith in Christ, at a particular moment of the Indian Church, marked by the martyrdom and violence against Christians in many areas of the country.

"We live in a time," continues the president of the Indian bishops, "where the world wants to deny suffering and the cross, even the tremendous scientific and technological progress unfortunately are used to get rid to the suffering through any means there are other sinister developments. Some cast doubt on the right to life of the newborn disabled baby, and of others who are incurably sick and old, and of those whose lives - they judge - are no longer useful to society or meaningful to themselves. Due to this we see termination of pregnancy when the foetus is abnormal, and even euthanasia are all the result of the inability to accept this suffering."

The life of Blessed Alfonsa is taking on an even greater value in India, a society where there is still a rigid separation among the castes, and the underprivileged are kept at the margins of society. "The canonization of Blessed Alfonsa," Cardinal Vithayathil concludes, "should force us to confront the grim reality upon which our success and world dominance depend - all money, power and other attractions end with death, but a live lived in holiness, in faith and lived communion with Christ, lives and continues to bear fruit even after the passing away of our mortal life."