New Delhi: Sister Mariam Thresia, a Catholic nun from Kerala and the founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family, was declared a saint Sunday in Vatican City.
She was canonised along with Cardinal John Henry Newman from England, Swiss laywoman Margarita Bays, Brazilian nun Dulce Lopes and Sister Giuseppina Vannina from Italy in a grand holy mass celebrated by Pope Francis.
Who is Sister Thresia?
Sister Thresia was born on 26 April 1876 in Puthenchira, a small village in Thrissur. From an early age, she led an ascetic life and helped the poor, the sick and the lonely. She founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1914 and was named ‘Mother Superior’ of the organisation. She passed away on 8 June 1926 at the age of 50.
The congregation was established to contribute to the spiritual growth of ordinary families and to model them on the holy family of Mother Mary, St Joseph and Jesus Christ. The congregation operates in multiple provinces in Kerala and has branches in Delhi, Punjab and Bihar as well.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had mentioned Sister Thresia in his monthly radio programme — Mann ki Baat —on 29 September and said her canonisation would be a matter of pride for every Indian.
Who is a saint?
Catholic individuals who have led extraordinary lives in the service of God, the poor and the needy, and were exemplary models of selflessness and benevolence are usually canonised as saints.
Once canonised, the person can be venerated in churches, their birth dates are marked as official feasts, their belongings are designated as sacred, and churches and religious shrines can be named after them. Their places of birth and their burial sites also become places of pilgrimage.
But not all saints are priests or nuns as lay people can also be canonised.
The four stages of canonisation
The process of sainthood usually begins five years after the death of the individual concerned. However, the Pope can waive the five-year interim period if he wants. This has been done twice recently — Pope Benedict VI waived it for his predecessor Pope John Paul II, and John Paul II did the same for Mother Teresa. The canonisation process for Mother Teresa began in 1999, less than two years after her death.
There are four primary stages to the process.
To begin with, the bishop from the candidate’s diocese (church district) gathers evidence about his or her life and submits it to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the department in the Vatican that recommends names for sainthood to the Pope.
If the Vatican finds the evidence sufficient to proceed with the process, the individual is designated as a ‘Servant of God’.
A postulator, who is well-versed in canonical, theological and historical processes, is then appointed by the Congregation committee to look into the candidate’s life and discern whether he/she lived a life of Christian virtue. Testimonies of witnesses along with the writings of the candidate are then collated and submitted to the Congregation. If the candidate led a life of ‘heroic virtue’ — the person is designated as ‘Venerable’, which is the second step in the process of canonisation.
Sister Mariam Thresia was declared ‘Venerable’ in June 1999.
The third step is beatification. At this stage, the postulator has to prove that a miracle by the intercession of the ‘Venerable’ had taken place. In case the candidate is a Christian martyr, the proof of miracles is not needed. A miracle proves that the person is in heaven and can intercede to God on behalf of people.
The candidate is designated as ‘Blessed’ in this stage.
The final stage of the canonisation process is sainthood and for this, proof of another miracle is required. In case of Sister Thresia, Christopher, a boy from Thrissur, is said to have been healed by her intercession.
In 2009, Christopher was born prematurely with a life-threatening respiratory condition. It is said that after Sister Thresia’s relic was placed on his chest, his condition improved drastically.
How the canonisation takes place
The canonisation ceremony consists of a Latin mass, celebrated by the Pope during which the life of the saint is narrated. The mass is a grand celebration and hundreds of people attend it.
Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, Thrissur MP T.N. Prathapan, former Supreme Court judge Kurian Joseph were part of the Indian delegation that attended the mass Sunday. The mass was also attended by Prince Charles.
Six Indian-origin saints
A total of six Indian-origin individuals, including Sister Thresia, have been declared as saints — Father Kuriakose Elias Chavara was canonised in 2014, Sister Alphonsa in 2008, Mother Euphrasia in 2014, Joseph Vaz in 2015 and Mother Teresa in 2016.
Mother Teresa was a nun from Yugoslavia who settled in Kolkata and dedicated her life to the upliftment of the poor.
St John de Britto, a Portugese priest who settled in India and died here, was canonised in 1947.
According to a Firstpost report, 21 people from Kerala are awaiting canonisation.
A day after Sister Thresia was declared a saint, secretary of Indian Medical Association Sulphi Noohu has questioned the move, saying there must be some evidence on the basis of which an illness has been cured.