By Ancy Paladka
When Pope Francis canonizes Mother Teresa on September 4, the Indian Church will have its sixth saint in its 2,000-year-old history.
Five of the saints came within the last eight years, ending a drought of Catholic holy men in a land where Christianity took roots in the apostolic times.
The first saint from India was a Eurasian, Franciscan Brother Gonsalo Garcia from Vasai, a suburb of Mumbai. He was among 26 Catholics martyred in Japan in 1957. They were canonized in 1862.
The next Indian saint took 146 years in coming. Alphonsa, a Franciscan Clarist nun who died in 1946 aged 36 at Bharananganam in Kerala, became the country’s first woman saint when Pope Benedict XVI canonized her in 2008.
Six years later, in 2014, Pope Francis canonized two saints, also from Kerala, Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Euphrasia Eluvathingal.
Canonization of Indians seems to have become an annual affair now. In 2015, Pope Francis declared Joseph Vaz, a priest from Goa, as a saint in Colombo. The 17th-century Oratorian priest is known as the Apostle of Sri Lanka.
Mother Teresa’s canonization is set for September 4, 2016.
The first saint, Garcia, was born in 1557 at Agashi, a village in Vasai, to a Portuguese soldier and a local woman. Garcia spent his childhood at Vasai Fort, which was reserved for the European people and their servants.
Garcia studied at the Jesuit school of Vasai Fort and came into contact with Jesuit missionaries. He accompanied the Jesuit missionaries to Japan in 1573. He learned Japanese during the voyage from a Japanese native who was on the same ship.
He worked as catechist for eight years. When he requested to join the Jesuits, his Indian roots proved a barrier. Garcia then left the Jesuits, and became a merchant in Alacao city. Later, he joined the Franciscans in Manila, Philippines, which was then under Spain.
When the king of Spain sent a delegation to Japan Garcia was selected as a translator. They reached Hirado, a Japanese harbor, in 1593.
The Franciscan began working in Kyoto, Osaka. Slowly Japan became a center of evangelization by the Franciscan missionaries.
However, a misunderstanding forced the Japanese authorities to arrest all Christian missionaries, including Garcia. They were executed on February 5, 1597.
After 35 years, Pope Urban VIII beatified Garcia and others. Their case was taken up after more than two centuries. On June 8, 1862, Pope Pius IX canonized Garcia and companions.
Alphonsa was born as Anna Muttathupadathu in Kudamalloor, near Kottayam, on August 19, 1910. Her mother died when she was young, so her maternal aunt raised her.
Anna joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation, a religious congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis, in 1927. She took the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception in honor of St. Alphonsus Ligouri.
In 1929 she was assigned to teach at Malayalam High School at Vazhappally. In 1930 Alphonsa entered the novitiate at Bharananganam and took her first vows a year later. She took final vows in 1936. Her health deteriorated. She died on July 28, 1946. She was buried at Catholic Church, Bharananganam, a parish of Palai diocese.
Claims of her miraculous intervention began almost immediately after her death, often involving student of the school where Alphonsa used to teach. In 1985, Pope John Paul II approved a miracle attributed to her intercession and beatified her on February 8, 1986, along with Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara.
Fr Chavara was born in 1805 at Kainakary, Kerala. He entered the seminary in 1818 and was ordained a priest in 1829. He and two other priests started a monastic order and named it Servants of Mary Immaculate in 1831. In 1855, Kuriakose and ten other priests took vows in the Carmelite tradition.
The saintly priest was a social reformer, who played a major role in educating the people of the lower ranks of society. In 1846, he started St. Joseph’s Press at Mannanam near Kottayam, the third printing press in Kerala. He set up the oldest existing Malayalam newspaper Nasrani Deepika. He also started a school at Mannanam.
He was responsible for introducing noon day meals in schools, a practice later adopted by the Indian government. In 1864, while serving as the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics, he ordered that every parish church should have a school. This helped make education available for everyone. Schools in Kerala are now called pallikudam (church tent).
He introduced retreat preaching for the laity in the Kerala Church and popularized devotions such as rosary, way of the cross and Eucharistic adoration.
The congregation he started is now as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate. He founded the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel, the first religious congregation for women in 1866. He died in 1871, aged 66, at Koonammavu.
Euphrasia Eluvathingal was born Rosa in 1877 at Kattoor near Trichur, Kerala. When she was 9, she is said to have experienced an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She then resolved to commit her life to God.
Rosa became a postulant in the Congregation of Mother Carmel in 1897. She took the name Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and joined novitiate two years later.
She made her first vows in 1900. She was appointed assistant to the Novice Mistress. Though frail in health, she showed rare moral courage and high sense of responsibility. In 1904 she was appointed Novice Mistress, a position she held for nine years.
She died on August 29, 1952, at St. Mary’s Convent, Ollur. Her tomb soon became a pilgrimage site after several miracles were reported through her intercession. She was beatified on December 3, 2006.
Joseph Vaz was the third of six children born in 1651 to Cristóvão Vaz and Maria de Miranda at at Benaulim, Goa.
In 1676, Vaz was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Goa. He soon started going barefoot to live like the poor and acquired a reputation as a popular preacher and confessor. He opened a Latin school in Sancoale for prospective seminarians. In 1677 he consecrated himself as a “slave of Mary.”
Vaz wanted to serve as a missionary in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). However, he was asked to go to Canara, southwestern Indian coast, where a conflict between the Padroado and the Propaganda Fide divided the Catholics.
Vaz used his diplomacy and humility to bring about a truce between the two factions. He then engaged in serious missionary activities from 1681 to 1684 in the Canara region.
He worked for the advancement of the marginalized. Many miracles are attributed to him. He returned to Goa in 1684 where he spent his time preaching in villages. A year later, he and some Goa archdiocesan priests decided to live together as a religious community and named themselves as the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, the first native religious community in the diocese.
Hearing of the persecution of Catholics of Ceylon under Dutch Calvinists, Vaz came to Jaffna in 1687 disguised as a mendicant. He travelled barefoot as an Indian sanyasi throughout that island nation.
Vaz succeeded in reviving the spirit of the persecuted Catholics. In 1692, Vaz settled in Kandy, the capital of the independent Kingdom of Kandy. The king suspected him to be a Portuguese spy and imprisoned with two other Catholics. There he learned Sinhala, the local language.
Vaz’s work with the sick convinced the Kandy king to allow Vaz freedom in his labors.
Vaz visited Batticaloa in 1710 to revive the Catholic faith. He visited a church in Thandavenveli, where he was tied to a tree and beaten.
Vaz died at Kandy in 1711, aged 59. His canonization cause was initiated in 1737 by the Cochin bishop. Pope John Paul II beatified him on January 21, 1995, in Sri Lanka. Pope Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle, generally a requirement for canonization.