India's Catholics celebrate first woman saint

Sun Oct 12, 2008 4:20pm EDT
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By Phil Stewart and D. Jose

VATICAN CITY/BHARANANGANAM, India (Reuters) - Pope Benedict created India's first woman saint Sunday and appealed for an end to anti-Christian violence there that has claimed dozens of lives since August.

Church bells rang and firecrackers went off as India's faithful followed the Vatican ceremony on television from southern Kerala state, where Sister Alphonsa had lived as a nun until her death more than six decades ago.

"As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time," Pope Benedict said in Rome.

Alphonsa is credited with curing illness and disease after her death in 1946, with the Vatican approving the reported miracle cure of Genil Joseph, a congenitally deformed child, in 1999. Alphonsa was beatified in 1986.

The canonization comes at a time when Christians, who make up just over 2 percent of India's billion-plus population, have come under fresh attack amid long-running tensions over religious conversions.

The murder of a Hindu leader in eastern Orissa state in August sparked some of the worst anti-Christian riots in decades, killing about 35 people and damaging dozens of churches.

"I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilization of love," said the pope, who also made three people from other countries saints.

"EVIL WIDESPREAD"   Continued...