The Saint Factory: Kerala gets a fourth Saint; 27 waiting in line

Kerala has been churning out more saints for the Roman Catholic Church in the last decade than ever in its history. Even as Sr Mariam Thresia is being elevated as a saint this October, 27 other saints are waiting in line, all on the threshold of sainthood. It also helps that Pope Francis is on a canonization spree.

Sr Mariam Thresia

Just four years after the canonization of Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sr Euphrasia, it’s indeed a celebratory moment for the Catholics in the state as another Kerala-born nun is bestowed with Sainthood this October.  The Vatican has announced that Sr Mariam Thresia, a Thrissur-native and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, will be canonized along with four others from around the world in October. Of the six saints from India (including Sr Mariam Thresia), four are from Kerala, with the other two being Mother Teresa and Fr Joseph Vaz, a Goa-born priest who was a missionary in Sri-Lanka.

Sr Mariam Thresia follows Sr Alphonsa, Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sr Euphrasia to join the lofty realm of sainthood from the Catholic community in Kerala. The canonization is significant as Mariam Thresia is the fourth from Kerala since 2008 to get elevated to sainthood. It may also be noted that the Catholics that are spread across three denominations in Kerala—Syro Malabar, Latin and Syro Malankara—constitute only a small portion of the 1.3 billion-strong global Catholic population.

The canonization is a time-consuming process and does not get completed in a definite time frame. It is an affirmation that a holy person after his/her death is in heaven with God interceding for the faithful. The process comprises of multiple phases after the death of the holy person: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed—and finally Saint—this usually take decades to complete.

The process begins in the parish where the laity approaches the Bishop of the respective diocese asking him to recommend a holy person (deceased) as a saint. The Bishop constitutes a team of historians and priests to study the cause for canonization. As the first step, the deceased holy person is declared “The Servant of God”.

Once the Bishop is convinced, he sends the cause to a specialized department in The Vatican that looks into the process of sainthood called the ‘Congregation for the Causes of Saints’. The person’s life is examined for holiness, virtuosity and service and once the ‘Servant of God’ passes muster, then he/she moves to the next step and the Pope declares him/her ‘Venerable’.

At this stage, a miracle must occur for the Venerable to move up the ladder. The Venerable must have interceded to God for the person who prayed for the intercession. After the miracle is scrutinized closely and proved that it did occur, then the Venerable gets promoted to ‘Blessed’.

There must be yet another miracle that has to be rigorously proved before the Blessed is finally canonized and conferred Sainthood. It would take years or even a century for a holy person to be canonized after his/her death. For instance, the proceedings to canonize Sr Mariam Thresia, who died in 1926, began in 1973 and she could become a saint only 46 years after the proceedings were initiated.

Sr Rani Maria of Perumbavoor, Devasahayam Pillai of erstwhile Travancore kingdom and Fr Augustine Thevarparambil (Kunjachan) are in the third and final stage of canonization as ‘Blessed’ and likely to be canonized in the near future.

According to the book, Viswasam Jeevichavar (Those lived faiths) published by the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC), as many as 27 more persons from Kerala are on their way to sainthood. However, Devasahayam Pillai is the only layman in the list while all others are bishops, priests, or nuns. This list of saints-in-waiting includes three non- Keralites too—Fr Zacharias, a Spanish missionary who began his holy life in India as a teacher and had devoted about 45 years here, and two German missionaries—Mother Petra and Br Fortnatus—who served, died and were buried here.

‘’This number could go up from what is listed in the book as canonization proceedings of some more persons have been initiated after the book was published some years ago,” pointed out Fr Varghese Vallikkatt, KCBC secretary. “There is nothing surprising that the number of those canonized from Kerala is on the rise.  Kerala’s Christian tradition is strong and so is the spiritual life of faithful.  The life of every Christian is a call to sainthood,” adds Fr Vallikkat.

There are nearly 10,000 saints or more in the Catholic pantheon. According to an article published by the Pews Research Centre, 30 per cent of all Popes are saints. Pope Franics, with 838 canonizations so far, has probably canonized more saints than any other Pope in the last three centuries beating Pope John Paul II, who canonized 482 saints and was himself elevated to Sainthood in 2014.

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