First woman saint for India

 Pope Benedict canonised India's first woman saint yesterday: Sr Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception.

During the Mass the Pope also denounced anti-Christian violence in India and in Iraq.

In his homily, Pope Benedict recalled the life of the new saint, who threw herself on a bonfire to escape a forced marriage so she could enter a convent. Her feet were badly burned and she was ill for the rest of her life but praised for her compassion and stoicism. She died aged 35, in 1946.

Pope Benedict said she had been "an exceptional woman", who had suffered a great deal in her life. "May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise," the Pope said.

After the ceremony in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict told Indian pilgrims among the crowd of tens of thousands that Alphonsa's "heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perserverance in the midst of deep suffering remind us that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial."

"As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time," he said in English.

"I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilisation of love," Benedict said.

Christians have also been suffering violence in Iraq, with many fleeing the country in the past few years after attacks on priests, congregations and churches.

"I invite prayers for reconciliation and peace in situations which provoke alarm and great suffering," Benedict said.

Pope John Paul II beatified Alphonsa during a pilgrimage to India in 1986.

The others canonized on Sunday were Gaetano Errico, a Neapolitan priest who founded a missionary order in the 19th century; Sister Maria Bernarda, born Verena Buetler in Switzerland in 1848, who worked as a nun in Ecuador and Colombia; and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran, a 19th century laywoman from Ecuador who helped the sick and the poor.

Source: The Hindu. Vatican Radio

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