The tiny state of Kerala is on the road to becoming the ‘Cradle of Saints’ with 21 people in the Catholic Church awaiting canonization in the coming years.
Canonisation, a process of proclaiming one worthy of worship, follows three stages of declaring an aspiring saint as ‘Servant of God’, ‘Venerable’ and ‘Blessed.’
While three from the state have already been granted sainthood, another eight are in the second and final stage of the canonization.
Sister Rani Maria from Perumbavoor in Ernakulam district, Mariam Thresia of Thrissur, Deva Sahayam Pillai of erstwhile Travancore kingdom and Thevarparambil Kunjachan (Kottayam) are in the third and final stage of canonization.
Those in the venerable list are Fr Varghese Payyappilly (Ernakulam), who was declared as a venerable by Pope Francis on April 14, Bishop Thomas Kurialacherry (Changanacherry), Fr Mathew Kadalikkattil (Kottayam) and Fr Joseph Vithayathil (Thrissur).
Though Kerala is considered as the cradle of Christianity in southern Asia, the state had to wait until 2008 to get a saint. It got the first saint with the canonization of Sr Alphonsa (1910-1946) of Palai in Kottayam district in 2008.
Since then, two more from the state have been sanctified. They are Fr Chavara Kuriakose Elias (1805-1871) and Sr Euphrasia Eluvathingal (1877-1952). The two were declared saints in November 2014.
The three from Kerala are among six saints that India has produced so far. The first was Portuguese Indian lay brother Gonsalo Garcia from Vasai in Mumbai. He was among 26 Catholics martyred in Japan in 1597. He was canonized in 1862. The other two are Goan priest Joseph Vaz and Mother Teresa, who were declared saints in 1995 and 2016 respectively.
Church officials in Kerala are hopeful that the eight people, who are placed on the path of sainthood, will be canonised in the next few years. The sudden surge in the canonization of spiritual men and women in Kerala at the beginning of the third millennium has come as a surprise to church activists and historians.
The Syro-Malabar Church, the largest of the three Catholic rites based in Kerala to which the three saints belong and which accounts for the majority of the saint aspirants put on the road for sainthood, has already expressed concern over the declining trend in the number of youths joining the vocation.
A six-day synod of the church held in January has warned that many convents and church institutions may have to be shut down if the current trend continues for the next 25 years. The synod has ordered a study to find the reasons for the lack of interest among the new generation to join the vocation and find solutions to them.
Reji Njallani, chairman of the open church movement, said that the Church was finding the going tough with the traditional sources of revenue shrinking due to various reasons. The Church finds immense scope in the saints since they can not only collect money directly from the faithful in their name but also earn a large amount of revenue by promoting pilgrim tourism.
He told Firstpost Christians from across the world have been increasingly showing interest in Kerala after the canonisation of Sister Alphonsa, Fr Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Sister Euphrasia. The Church is trying to cash on this interest by launching the process for creating a holy circuit, connecting the birth-places of all saints in the state.
He said it was difficult to believe that none of the lay people are eligible to be considered for sainthood. “It is not that there are no saintly people among the laity. It’s because the Church does not want them as saints. If lay people are declared saints their families may seek a share of the revenue. The Church apparently does not want this,” Reji said.
Fr Paul Thelekkat, the chief editor of Sathyadeepam, a Catholic weekly newspaper published from Ernakulam, agreed that there are many men and women among the laity who are eminently qualified to become saints. However, he said there was no need to canonise all.
“We are looking for holy men and women who lived holiness in a heroic manner. They are put on holy pedestals more to imitate and venerate so that their heroism will kindle the fire of holiness in the church. Every saint is put on the pedestal as an example of one who followed Christ to the point surrendering one’s own death as a gift to God,” the priest told Firstpost.
He said that the Church’s interest in saints must be saintly and holy and not any worldly desire that should muddle the whole thing. “Disinterested holy attitude should prevail in all affairs connected with canonisation. No opportunity should be given to the accusation of saints making a factory in the Vatican or anywhere,” Fr Paul said.