Monday, October 13, 2008

St.Alfonsamma - A saint from Kerala, India

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Blessed Sr. Alphonsa

Blessed Alponsa was born on 19th August 1910 as the fourth child of Joseph and Mary Muttathupadath, in the parish of Kudamaloor in the state of Kerala. She was baptized on the 27th August. Her baptismal name was Anna and her pet name Annakutty. Her mother passed away three moths after her birth.

Annakutty started her schooling at Arpookara and left for Muttuchira Govt. School for pursuing her studies from the fourth class onwards under the immediate supervision of her maternal aunt Annamma Muricken. The aunt brought her up extremely affectionately, but equally strictly also. Her one ambition was that the child should be brought up as a respectable housewife for a deserving bridegroom. Annakutty had a vision of St. Theresa of Liseux whose life in spired her to become a religious. She therefore did not yield to any marriage proposal. Finally when she was almost compelled to be betrothed at to the church, she extricated herself from it by voluntary burning her foot placing it an ash pit of burning husks. Against such determine resistance the aunt succumbed to her desire and permitted her to join a convent .

Annakutty joined Clarist convent at Bharananganam in 1927 on the feast of Pentecost. She recived the veil postulant on second August 1928 with the name Alphonsa. Her vestition was on 19th May 1930. Later she joined the St. Theresa’s School Chenganacherry for higher studies, on completing which she engaged in teaching for a period of one year at Vakakkad. Sr. Alphonsa entered the novitiate on 12th August 1935. During this period, she had a sever attack of hemorrhage and it was feared that she would have to be sent back. But on the ninth day of novena held by her and the community seeking intercession of Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavera, she was miraculously cured her. She completed the novitiate and made the solemn profession of her religious vows on 12th August 1936.

Sr. Alphonsa continued to have her repeated spells of sickness and pain. She was on a bed of thrones torn and tortured by excruciating pain and prolonged agony. Here was an rejoiced in the lord and magnified Him. She was longing to suffer even more for her own sanctification and that of the world.

She constantly advised her companions and novices to accept suffering cheerfully citing the biblical references to the grain of wheat which has to fall down and decay for raising new sprouts; it has to be ground in order to be turned into hosts for transformation as the body of Our Lord. She also reminded them of the grapes which have to be crushed for yielding wine to become the blood of the Lord. Her death(28th July 1946) was unnoticed by the public. The funeral was simple and thinly attended. But soon the school children , who loved her received favors through her intercession. Her tomb at Bharananganam turned into a great centre of pilgrimage attracting people from far and near.

H.E. Cardinal Tisserant inaugurated the diocesan process for her beatification on 2nd December 1953. The Long diocesan and subsequent apostolic processes bore fruit when on 9th November 1984 the Holy Father officially declared that she had practiced the Christian virtues heroically. A miracle wrought through her intercession was also formally approved by the Pope on 6th July 1985.Providence has been pleased to bestow on this generation the grace to see a daughter of the soil, a seed of the ancient Christian community of Kerala and India, beatified (8th February 1986) in her homeland by the Supreme Pontiff during his visit to this chosen land.
Now Sr. Alphonsa is to be declared as Saint by Pope Benedict XVI. All the canonization process was over.

About Kudamaloor :
Kudamaloor, is the birthplace of St. Alphonsa and is a small village situated on the banks Konakiri Canal. It is not far from the town of Kottayam. Kudamaloor is famous for the Chembakasseril Family. A Christian church was built by the help of this famous landlord. St. Alphonsa's family "Muttathupadam" was famous for the traditional treatment given by them for the people who suffered from various kinds of ailments.
"There is a beautiful, evergreen and fertile piece of land blessed with a variety of tropical trees, on the western bank of the Konakiri Canal, a tributary of river Kudamaloor, which flows down westward forming a border line for Aarpookara and Kudamaloor; this river itself is the northern tributary of the famous Meenachil river, flowing through Kottayam district in Kerala state. South India."

About Bharananganam
Bharananganam is a name which is synonymous with St. Alphonsa, who ise the first saint of India. This town is 5 kilometer away from Palai, now has become an important pilgrim center in Kerala. St. lphonsa was born in 1910 August 19th at Kudamaloor, a small village near Kottayam. A traditional family named Muttathupadathu was blessed to have Sr. Alphonsa (maiden name A.E Anna) as their child. She was born to Mr.Auseph and Mariamma. Muttathupadathu. She was baptized at Kudamlaoor church. 50 days later Mariamma died. So Anna was looked after by her maternal uncle at Muttuchira another small town in Kottayam district. She studied up to 3rd class at Muttuchira government school. During 1924 she had suffered by severe burns and she was not able to continue the studies. Yet she remained at Muttuchira till she was 15 years. Her Holy Communion (1917) and confirmation (1925) were held at Muttuchira church. She was adamant in joining a convent as a nun and by passing all proposals for marriage she joined Franciscan Clarist convent at Bharananganam on August 2nd, 1928. Then she joined Clarist convent at Vazhappally, Changanacherry. She studied up to 8th standard. Unfortunately she again fell ill and was brought back to Bharanganam convent. For a short period she was a teacher at Vakakkadu School. Then illness became a regular visitor of Sr.Alphonsa. She was bedridden and was not able to walk. Yet she prayed all the time. All treatments proved fruitless. On 1946 July 28 she was called to her eternal home. The mortal remains were laid to rest at Bharananganam forane church. Surprisingly very few people attended the funeral. But very soon her grave was visited by mostly by students. They got the blessings of God especially for winning high marks in school and college examinations. Gradually several people started visiting Bharananganam and St. Alphonsa's tomb .
The Bharananganam church which is 1000 years old is also known as Anakkallu church. This place is also have stories which relates to Pandavas. It is believed that Bharananganam Sreekrishna temple was blessed by pandavas themselves. The older name of this place was Parananganam. St. Thomas the apostle of India, social reformer sree Narayana Guru, Mother Theresa, blessed Chavara Elias visited this place. It is believed that a portion of the cross which was used to crucify Jesus Christ is kept here. Archeologists unearthed coins which belongs to Buddha era (B.C 563-483), 162 silver coins of 18th century from Bharananganam. This place is considered to be settlement of Buddhists, the sastha temple at Edamattom underlines this theory.

The church was first built during 1004 AD. As per the tradition five families requested for a church at Bharananganam. But there was a quarrel between the Christians of this region over the location of the church. The local ruler find a unique way to settle the issue. He entrusted his elephant to find out a suitable place. The foundation stone was laid on the same day (1004 August 15) .Thus a small church was built. Few years later more Christians from Nilakkal and surroundings reached Bharananganam and the Christian community became stronger. They wanted a big church. In 1935 a new church was built and the idol of St.Sebastian brought by the new families was installed in the church. When the Portuguese were in command of the affairs of the Christians in India they wanted to rebuild churches in Christian style. Before that all churches adopted temple architecture and even the first sailor from Portugal Vasco de Gama prayed in a temple believing it as a church. In 1913 this church was demolished to construct another church. But it took a long 15 years to complete the works the obvious reason was First World War. This is the fourth church and a big one in gothic style. It is 180 feet long and 62 feet wide. It is built with local available materials. The altar of the old church is kept even now. There was a small church adjacent to the old church and it is still there.

When the number of pilgrims increased a shrine was built near the old church which is named after St.Alphonsa. There is a belief that illness will be cured miraculously by praying at St. Alphonsa's grave. St.Alphonsa was declared "blessed" on 1986 February by Pope John Paul II when he visited Kerala. (The podium built for the ceremony at Kottayam is kept near the Bharananganam church. It was the maiden visit of a Pope to Kerala and second visit of a Pope to India. The first pope to visit India was Paul VI. Beatification of Sr. Alphonsa is expected on 12th October 2008 at Vatican by Pope Benedict XVI. Then Sr.Alphonsa will be the first Indian saint. Though Gonsalo Garzia (1557-1597) from Maharastra was declared saint in 1862 by Pope Pius IX, he was only half Indian. He was born to Indian mother and Portuguese father. The beatification process of Sr.Alphonsa started way back in 1953. After numerous complicated processes the final declaration is expected. December 8th (Francis Assisi feast), St. Sebastian's feast (January 20, 21) St. Alphonsa day (July 28) are the main festivals of Bharananganam. People belong to various communities live here in harmony, and the festivals of the church and temple are celebrated by all. The ornamental lamp held during the church procession was donated by the temple. Bharananganam parish is now having 1000 odd families. This church was made a forane in 1890 itself. The first pastoral home in Kerala was built here. The ornamental gold cross which is an artistic marvel was first owned by this church. An English school was started here in 1880 though the foreign heads of church were not interested in English schools.

Bharananganam is a panchayth area spreading 27.04 square kilometer. Population is around 17,000. The women's college at Palai is named after Sister Alphonsa. This college is famous for its achievements in sports apart from academic excellence. It produced few Olympians too. The churches at the native place of Sr. Alphonsa at kudamaloor and Muttuchira are also visited by thousands of pilgrims. (Muttuchira is also famous for stylish coffin making).

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