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The India-born saints who came before Mother Teresa

On Sunday, Mother Teresa became the fourth Indian to be made saint. Three of them were canonised in the last decade itself.

india Updated: Sep 05, 2016 20:35 IST
A nun holds a photo of Mother Teresa before the start of the canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on September 4, 2016.
A nun holds a photo of Mother Teresa before the start of the canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on September 4, 2016. (AP Photo)

Pope Francis on Sunday declared the ‘Blessed’ Mother Teresa a saint at the canonization mass held at St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

Thousands were gathered at the square that leads to St Peter’s Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church and home to the Pope, to witness the canonization that was fast-tracked. Mother Teresa, popularly known as the “saint of the gutters” for her humanitarian work for the destitute, was declared saint just 19 years after her death. In most cases, saints have been declared scores of decades after their deaths.

Read | Pope Francis declares ‘Blessed Teresa’ a saint at Vatican canonisation

Saint Teresa of Calcutta – the city where she dedicated her life to her work and set up the Missionaries of Charities – became the fifth Indian to be made a saint. The others to be canonised are Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Sister Euphrasia and Sister Alphonsa. Saint Gonsalo Garcia, though of Portuguese parentage, was born in India and is considered an India-born saint. So is Joseph Vaz, the first saint from Sri Lanka. Born in Goa, Vaz was educated and ordained as a priest in India, and the Vatican said the two countries had special significance at his being raised to sainthood.

Sister Alphonsa, October 2008

The Catholic nun was born in Kudamaloor, a village near Kottayam in Kerala, to Joseph and Mary in 1910. She took the veil in 1928, naming herself in honour of St Alphonsus Ligouri. From 1930 till the end of her life, Sister Alphonsa struggled with many health issues. In 1936, it is said that she was cured of some of her ailments through Kuriakose Elias Chavara (yet to be made saint at the time). However, she finally died from liver issues in 1946 in Bharnanganam, near Kottayam.

Almost immediately after her death, claims of miracles began circulating. These often involved the children from the school she had taught at. Most were claims of medical cures, and in many cases, the straightening of clubbed feet.

In 1953, Cardinal Tisserant initiated the process for her beatification. Four decades after her death, Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1986. On June 1, 2007, Pope Benedict cleared Sister Alphonsa’s name for canonization, and eventually named her saint on October 12, 2008. Sister Alphonsa became the second India born and the first Indian woman to be canonized.

Read | Sister Alphonsa becomes India’s first woman saint

Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara, November 2014

Kuriakose Chavara was born in 1805 to Catholic parents in Kerala. He took up priesthood in 1829.

The process for his beatification was initiated by the Archbishop of Changanassery in 1958.

Twenty eight years later, in 1986, when Pope John Paul II visited Kerala’s Kottayam, he declared the priest as ‘Blessed’, recognising one miracle of his. Finally, on November 23, 2014, Pope Francis canonized him as saint after a second miracle was recognised.

The two miracles that raised Chavara to sainthood include the cure of Joseph Mathew Pennaparambil who was born with club-feet and the cure of Maria Jose Kottarathil’s squint eye.

Read | Indians, Chavara and Euphrasia, conferred sainthood by Pope Francis

Mother Euphrasia, November 2014

Mother Euphrasia was canonized at the same time as Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara.

Born in October 1877 at Arnattukara in Thrissur, Kerala, she was popularly known as Evuprasiamma.

Euphrasia was more meditatively inclined, and chose to live in the confines of a convent in Thrissur helping people through prayers and wise counsel. She died in 1952.

She was declared Servant of God in 1987 and beatified in 2006 after the approval of a miracle attributed through her intercession by the Vatican panel set up to consider her case for Sainthood.

She is known for the cure of Thomas Tharakan’s bone cancer. A day before surgery, scans showed that Tharakan’s tumour had simply vanished.

Joseph Vaz, January 2015

Joseph Vaz was born in April 1651 in the seaside town of Benaulim in southern Goa, which was under Portuguese rule. His parents, Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda, were devout Catholics. He was ordained a priest in 1676 and volunteered to go to Sri Lanka, where the Dutch were persecuting Catholics and imposing Calvinism.

A few years later, he entered Jaffna in north Sri Lanka disguised as a coolie. Taken for a Portuguese spy, he was imprisoned in 1691 and sent to Kandy. He was released two years later by King Vimaladharna Surya II, a Buddhist, after his prayers are believed to have brought rain to end a prolonged drought. He tended to the sick when the king fled Kandy during a small-pox epidemic. He died in Kandy in January 16, 1711.

Credited with the revival of Catholicism in Sri Lanka, Vaz was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993 and was declared a saint on January 14, 2015 by Pope Francis at an open-air mass in Colombo.

Read | Indian who revived Catholicism in Lanka

Saint Gonsalo Garcia, June 1862

Gonsalo Garcia was born in Vasai near Mumbai (then Portuguese India) to an Indian mother and Portuguese father in 1556. He was accepted to the Franciscan order. He was eventually sent to Japan as a part of a delegation, under the orders of the King of Spain, because of his fluency in Japanese. However, during a political fall out, missionaries were rounded up, including Garcia, and sentenced to death.

Afterwards, a series of miracles in Nagasaki were attributed to Father Garcia, and in 1627, Pope Urban VIII declared Garcia and his co-martyrs ‘Blessed’. On June 8, 1862, Pope Pius IX canonized him as Saint Gonsalo Garcia.

For full coverage on Mother Teresa’s canonization click here