Sister Alphonsa is now India's first woman saint

Sister Alphonsa, a Catholic nun from Kerala, was elevated as Saint by Pope Benedict XVI at a solemn function at the Vatican, making her the first Indian woman to be canonised.

Church bells peeled across Kerala and special prayers were held as the proclamation was made at the St Peters Square in the Vatican.

Three others-- an Italian priest and founder of Missionaries of Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Father Geatano Eerrico, Swiss foundress of the Congregation of Franciscan Sisters of Mary Help of Christians, Maria Bernarda Butler and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo, an Equadorian lay person, were also canonised as Saints along with the Keralite nun.

The Prefect of Congregation of Saints presented Sister Alphonsa's biography to the Pope.

Sister Alphonsa is the second person from India to be canonised by the Catholic church, the first being Gonzalo Garcia, a Franciscan monk born to an Indian mother and Portugese father. While she was alive, people from the sleepy farming village and hamlets around used to call on her and she would pray for them. Some of the miracles attributed to her were said to have happened then.

While the Roman Catholic church has over 10,000 canonised saints, in India this is the first time that someone from its flock has been elevated to full sainthood, church sources say.

The church is spread over Syro Malabar, Malankara and Latin Catholic rites and accounts for about 70 per cent of the Christian population in India.

Giant screens had been put up at Kudamaloor and Bharananganam, the ancestral house and tomb respectively of Sister Alphonsa, to enable the thousands of worshippers who had gathered to see the live telecast.

Union minister Oscar Fernandes led the Indian delegation at the ceremony. Kerala was represented by state PWD minister, Mons Joseph, former minister K M Mani and MP P C Thomas, among others.

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