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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

God’s own country Kerala likely to get a holy tourism circuit

Saints Alphonsa , Kuriakose and Euprasia are fast becoming a big draw tourism draw in Kerala, where Christians comprise 18% of the state’s population.

india Updated: Dec 22, 2017 11:14 IST
Ramesh Babu
Ramesh Babu
Hindustan Times, Kottayam

A group of pilgrims from Goa kneel before the tomb of St Alphonsa in Kerala’s Kottayam. After prayers, a priest guides them through the sprawling church complex, packed with pilgrims from across the country.

The 20th century religious figure, who became the first woman of Indian origin to be canonised in 2008, is one of three Christian figures who are fast becoming a big draw in the state.

The other two are 19th-century priests Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Saint Euprasia Eluvathingal. The church of Kerala now plans to connect the villages of all three —Alphonsa’s Bharaninganam, Chavara’s Manannam and Euprasia’s Ollur – to make up a holy tourism circuit in the state. The three villages are all in a 150-km radius.

India has only six Christian saints, and the last five have come in the past decade.

The first saint was a Eurasian, Gonsalo Garcia in 1862, but the next saint took 146 years -- Alphonsa was canonised in 2008. In 2014, Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euprasia were canonised. In 2016, Mother Teresa was declared a saint.

“For the state, it is the fruit of faith and sacrifice. Our saints are symbols of hope and sacrifice. They lead us to light always. In Kerala, Christian values and traditions blended perfectly so it has every right to become the land of saints,” said Syro-Malabar church spokesman Father Mathew Chandrankunnel who is also managing affairs of the St Alphonsa shrine in Bharaninganam.

Many in the community were dissatisfied earlier this month when the supreme head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, visited Myanmar and Bangladesh but not India.

“Look at the size of Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Pope should have been here first,” a believer busy with her prayers at the Alphonsa shrine lamented.

“Sainthood is a long process. Some miracles are also associated with it. In earlier days, historical compilation was also tiresome,” said Father Scria Ethirett, director of the Chavara pilgrim centre (Kottayam).

Both Alphonsa and Euprasia were canonised for their “suffering and perseverance” Chavara was made a saint for his social work. He initiated social reforms, founded the first Sanskrit school in 1846 and encouraged women’s education.

Christians comprise 18% of the state’s population, as per the 2011 census, and the Church plays an important role in the social life of the state. More than half of the clergy across India hail from the state. St Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, is believed to have visited the state in the first century AD.

He is said to have landed in Muziris (now Kodungalur) and is fondly called the “patron saint of India”.

First Published: Dec 17, 2017 07:26 IST