Persecuted Christians Have New Advocate

Church Recognizes 1st Indian Female Saint

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2008 ( As Christians in India continue to face persecution at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, today they have a new advocate: Benedict XVI canonized the first female Indian saint.

The Pope offered Sr. Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception as a model for the Christians of her country. He spoke of the newly recognized Indian saint today at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square. During the celebration, he canonized three others besides St. Alphonsa.

The Holy Father described the Indian religious as a woman «convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father. By accepting the invitation to the wedding feast, and by adorning herself with the garment of God’s grace through prayer and penance, she conformed her life to Christ’s and now delights in the ‘rich fare and choice wines’ of the heavenly kingdom.»

Alphonsa (1910-1946), born Anna Muttathupadathu, was the last of five children born to a Christian family of noble origins. Left orphaned at only three months, she was raised by a maternal aunt and educated by an uncle who was a priest. But it was her maternal grandmother who helped her discover the faith and instilled a love of prayer in her already at a young age.

Her young life was marked not only by grave illnesses but also by ill-treatment from her aunt.

«Her heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance in the midst of profound suffering remind us that God always gives us the strength necessary to endure every trial,» the Pope said at the end of the Eucharistic celebration, after praying the Angelus.

«While the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first daughter presented for public veneration, I would like to assure them of my prayer during this difficult time,» the Pontiff added.

According to reports from Indian bishops present at the synod on the Word of God underway in Rome, at least 80 Christians have been killed in the wave of religious persecution that the country is currently experiencing, especially in the state of Orissa.

Benedict XVI entrusted «those who seek peace and reconciliation to the providential care of almighty God.»

He also asked that the «authors of the violence renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilization of love.»

Spiritual direction

The Pope presented another of the four canonized today as a model of Christian life «accessible to all faithful.»

The Ecuadorian laywoman Narcisa de Jesús Martillo Morán «offers us a perfect example of a prompt and generous response to the invitation that the Lord makes to us to participate in his love,» he said.

The Holy Father noted how from a very young age, «she clearly felt in her heart the call to live a life of sanctity and surrender to God.»

«To assist with docility the action of the Holy Spirit in her soul, she always sought the counsel and guidance of good and expert priests, considering spiritual direction as one of the most effective means to reach sanctity,» he said. «St. Narcisa de Jesús shows us a path to Christian perfection accessible to all faithful.»

«Dear brothers and sisters,» the Bishop of Rome concluded, «let us thank the Lord for the gift of sanctity that today shines in the Church with singular beauty. Jesus invites us all to follow him, like these saints, on the way of the cross, to inherit the eternal life that he, dying, made a gift to us. May their examples encourage us, their teachings orient and comfort us, their intercession sustain us in our daily toil, so that we too may one day share with them and all the saints the joy of the eternal feast in the heavenly Jerusalem.»

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