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On a trail of sacrifice
St. Alphonsa,The first Indian origin woman to be canonized as a saint by Vatican. A Keralite by birth, her native town of Bharananganam now has a thriving pilgrimage centre which is thronged by believers from inside and outside the state alike. As her feast for this year has started, Deepika Global chronicles this saintly life for the first time. Read on:

St. Alphonsa who is popularly known as ‘Alphonsaamma’ in the Malayalam language, is literally a daughter of suffering. Suffering had followed her right from birth into the grave. The saga of early tragedy starts with the death of Alphonsa’s mother at a time when she was not more than a toddler.

Devoid of a mother’s pampering, she came under the control of her maternal aunt for sometime. This followed a period of Primary Education under the care of her father and grandmother. It was during this period that the divine call to nunhood started ringing in her ears. History says that she even burned her legs in fire as a staunch protest against the elders’ attempts to marry her off at an early age. So intense was her desire to ward off all stumbling blocks on the way to nun hood.

But, diseases and other difficulties grabbed her once she joined a convent. This even pushed her to the extent of doubting her own ability to succeed in the ambition. In addition, criticisms and mockings poured in from several quarters . But, seldom did she give up on her dreams. Instead, she embraced pain wholeheartedly and even started asking God for more. All of them, turned out to be opportunities for her to prove the purity of character. In other words, she viewed pain as a saving path to holiness.

Fruits of her burning prayers amidst sufferings were first recognized by children. Following this, people started visiting her in large numbers seeking blessings. The number of such believers steadily increased as the cycle of time turned around. None of these were results of any kind of self promotion. Her fame spread far and wide which solely relied on mouth publicity of those who experienced her love. Love is impossible sans suffering and sacrifice would be a statement for which Alphonsaamma could be quoted as an example. For it is said, more love employs even more sufferings.

St.Alphonsa The arduous journey to sainthood

Annakkutty was her real name. She was born to Kuttan Vaidyan and Mary, as a premature baby on August 19, 1910 in the sleepy hamlet of Kudamaloor. She was their fourth child. Her elder brother had died at a young age. Baptized on August 27 at St. Mary's church in the village, she grew up under the care of her maternal aunt Annamma.

Before long, Annamma fell ill and she was transferred to her paternal aunt Thressiamma's home. She was enrolled in the Government L.P School at Arpookkara village for primary education. Little Anna eagerly started looking forward to her First Holy communion, which she considered as the first great achievement in life. Finally, her dream came true and the same church where she was baptized once again became the venue. Following this, she was admitted in Muttuchira Government middle school for further education. Her desire to persue nunhood peaked during this period.

Finally, the Day of Pentecost dawned and Annakkutty accompanied her father on the way to the Franciscan Clarist Convent in Bharananganam. Staying there, she completed seventh standard (equivalent to today's tenth standard). She received the postulant's veil on 2 August 1928 and took the name Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception in honour of St. Alphonsus Ligouri. But, diseases had already started troubling her. Hardships started clouding her life in the form of severe internal bleeding which got her admitted in Ernakulam General Hospital, followed by a surgery.

In 1932, she joined St.Paul's LP School as a teacher. But, this couldn’t last long as diseases once again made things tough for her. Eventually, she had to return to Bharananganam. Internal haemorrhage got worse the next year and she couldn’t even sleep peacefully for three long months. She survived on very little food and water. Gradually, she turned completely sick. Nevertheless, the heavenly countenance and charm with a graceful tint refused to leave her face. This continued to draw people towards her as before.

In 1934 she wanted to go for noviciate (period of training and preparation before taking holy vows). but was refused permission owing to poor health conditions. But, her persistent efforts yielded results and the following year saw her entry in the second batch started in Changanacherry. Fr. Louis Perumalil and Mother Urshula were her mentors there. Alphonsaamma submitted herself before the extremely stringent rules, while silently dealing with pain. Prayer, forgiveness, tolerance and sacrifice slowly became part and parcel of her life.

She returned after completing noviciate in 1936 and soon high fever grabbed her, which even soared as high as 105 degrees. The divine intervention of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (known locally as Kochuthresia) cured her this time. Again the respite didn't take her too far as pneumonia accompanied by chest pain got the better of her.

One night, a thief broke into her room which scared her out of consciousness. This incident threw her into a period of memory loss and mental trauma which lasted for months. Even while crumbling under pain, she indulged in productive activities like painting, cushion making, knitting etc.

Once again, another fresh set of tribulations came flooding in 1945 when she used to vomit at least 60 times a day. Battling severe pain which almost sucked life out of her, Alphonsamma was bedridden for days on end. The Holy Eucharist offered the only ray of hope, as the vomiting would miraculously subside while receiving it. She even held others in awe when she took upon herself the severe malaria which went on giving Bishop James Kalassery a hard time.

One day, she threw up 100 times and tooth pain made it impossible to swallow even a drop of water. "I felt like an insect in sweltering fire", was her comment on that condition. She sensed her time for heavenly journey drawing close. This was evident as she had already started preparing for death right from the beginning of 1946. Finally, she successfully completed the self sacrifice on July 28.

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