India's first woman saint cheers riot-hit Christians

Sat Oct 11, 2008 6:41am EDT
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TRIVANDRUM, India (Reuters) - Thousands of Christians were flocking to a small town in southern India on Saturday to celebrate the planned canonization of a Roman Catholic nun, against a backdrop of the worst anti-Christian riots in decades.

Sister Alphonsa will become India's first woman saint when she is canonized by Pope Benedict at a special ceremony at the Vatican on Sunday.

"It is a very important event and a big recognition for a woman born in a simple, ordinary Indian family," said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath in eastern Orissa state, where recent attacks on Christians have killed about 35 people.

"At this time of suffering, it will help us and inspire us."

Tens of thousands of people were thronging a church in the town of Bharananganam in Sister Alphonsa's native Kerala state ahead of the occasion.

Special masses are being held in all Catholic churches in the state, where Saint Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, is believed to have arrived in 52 AD, bringing Christianity to India.

Bells will ring and firecrackers will burst across Kerala when the Pope declares Sister Alphonsa a saint at 1.30 p.m. (0800 GMT), said Father Dominic Vechoor, chancellor of Palai diocese, where she was a nun from 1927 till her death in 1946.

The canonization ceremony will be telecast live from the Vatican, where a large number of church and state officials and pilgrims from India are expected to be present.

About 100,000 people are expected on Sunday when mass will begin at the crack of dawn, said Lukos Joseph, trustee of the Alphonsa Church in Bharananganam, where roads have been smoothed and the church and convent sport a fresh coat of paint.   Continued...