FACTBOX: Christians in India, a tiny group

Sat Oct 11, 2008 1:56am EDT
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(Reuters) - A Roman Catholic nun, Sister Alphonsa, will become India's first woman saint on Sunday when she is canonized by Pope Benedict at the Vatican.

Coming amid some of the worst anti-Christian riots in India in decades, the ceremony at the Vatican is expected to be watched on television by millions in India, with tens of thousands also expected at the church near Kottayam in Sister Alphonsa's native Kerala state.

Here are five facts about Christianity in India:

* Christianity is believed to have come to India with the arrival of Thomas, one of the 12 apostles, in 52 AD in the southwestern state of Kerala.

* Settlements of Persian and Syrian Christian traders followed, and the arrival of French and Portuguese missionaries in the 14th and 15th century, and later the British who subsequently colonized India led to its spread.

* Christians make up 2.3 percent of India's billion-plus population, which is predominantly Hindu. Roman Catholics make up some 70 percent of the Christian population, with large concentrations in the southern and northeastern states.

* Sister Alphonsa will be the second Indian saint after Gonsalo Garcia, of Portuguese parentage, who was canonized in 1862. Albanian-born Mother Teresa, who dedicated her life to the poor and destitute in Kolkata, was beatified in 2003, the first step to sainthood. She died in 1997.

* India does not have a long history of attacks on Christians, but intolerance has risen in the past two decades with a revival of Hindu nationalism and its new agenda to fight Christian missionaries.

The recent killing of a Hindu leader in eastern Orissa state sparked some of the worst anti-Christian riots in India in decades, killing about 35 people, damaging dozens of churches and forcing thousands to flee their homes.

(Compiled by Rina Chandran; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)