With the canonisation of Mar Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Marth Euphrasia Eluvathingal in Vatican on Sunday, Kerala now has three saints that Catholics all over the world can worship and pray to. The first saint from the state was Sister Alphonsa, fondly called Alphonsamma, who was also the first saint of Indian origin.
All the three are from the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala and are deeply worshipped by thousands of believers, not just from the Syrian Christian community, but also from other faiths. Several miracles, mostly curing people of their terminal illnesses, are attributed to them which contributed to their sainthood.
The canonisation on Sunday was a huge development for the state. All the TV channels aired live images from Vatican in the afternoon and also ran discussions on the divinity and social contributions of Kuriakose Chavara, popularly called Chavara Achan, and Euphrasia, who is known as Evuprasiamma. Both of them were born in the 19th century and went on to become the solace for tens of thousands of believers. Chavara Achan was born about 70 years before Evuprasiamma and died in 1871 at the age of 65. Evuprasiamma died in 1952.
They both lived in two different generations, but were united by sainthood and divinity. In fact Chavara Achan was beatified – a process that precedes canonisation – in 1986 (by none other than the Pope John Paul II during his India visit), while Evuprasiamma received the same recognition twenty years later. However, both of them were canonised on the same day. In comparison, Saint Alphonsa lived in the 20th century, but was canonised first.
Miracles are important for sainthood. According to this report, “the confirmation of miracles through intercession is a very important stage in the process of beatification and canonisation. For that, a team of more than 500 medical consultants in Vatican have to attest that they are medically impossible. After that, a team of theologians have to study and give a report on divine intervention in the miraculous cure. Following that, a special congregation of cardinals have to approve it. It is only at the end, the Pope grants his approval.”
In the case of Chavara Achan, it was Alphonsamma, who had testified that he had appeared before her twice and cured her of her illness. His intercession is also attributed to the correction of the squint eye of a young girl, which was reportedly testified by doctors.
In the case of Evuprasiamma, it was the cure of bone cancer in a carpenter. The tumour was apparently diagnosed by a hospital in Thrissur, which later disappeared before a scheduled surgery. The carpenter’s family said that they had prayed to Evuprasiamma. Another miracle attributed to her is the cure of a tumour in the neck of a seven year old girl. There are many more confirmed and unconfirmed reports of miracle cures.
The news of the canonisation was received by the state with enormous enthusiasm that cut across religious beliefs because both Chavara Achan and Evuprasiamma were also socially committed public figures. Chavara Achan is not viewed as a Catholic priest alone, but also as a social reformer. He established a school with every church and offered free education with a view to help people from lower castes who had extremely limited access to education those years. He had made it his mission to encourage people from lower castes, particularly Dalits, to study. He even set up a school for Sanskrit, when it was the language of the social elite. He is also credited with the first noon meal programme for school kids.
“Spirituality knows no borders. And saints don’t limit themselves to anyone. I reiterated this once again as I joined the multitude celebrating the Mass in Vatican after the Pope had canonised Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sr. Euphrasia,” wrote Dr KS Radhakrishnan, Chairman of Kerala Public Service Commission in Malayalam Manorama. Many of those who participated in TV discussions on the canonisation were non-Christians.
Alphonsamma, the first saint, is a household name in the state thanks to a popular TV series. The news saints are also likely to rise to her level of popularity sooner or later.