|Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.|
Kerala is known as God's own country. The name has come to stay thanks to its rich scenic beauty which imparts the feel of peace and tranquility, a token of heavenly bliss rare to find in this fast-paced world. This celebrity name is further adorned in recent times by a galaxy of saints that has arisen on the horizon of the State.
Six years ago, devout Sister Alphonsa, a humble Clare nun was raised to the altars giving India her first saint. On 23 November 2014, two personages of renowned sanctity from the native land are due to be canonized by Pope Francis: Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias and Blessed Euphrasia.
The story of the saints, in Pope Benedict XVI’s memorable words is "the great luminous wake with which God has passed through history." The Mother Church is reminding us that God has walked in this country in the history of these two holy persons. It is a call to the Church of India to follow in their footsteps and thereby rise up to a life worthy of our calling.
Chavara Kuriakose Elias – Contemplative in Action
Archbishop Antonios Petti, the Promoter-General of Faith for the Causes of Saints in Rome, presented Kuriakose Elias as "a pearl truly Indian and oriental." Born on 10 February 1805 at Kainakary, a village situated in the scenic backwaters of Alleppey in Kerala, he had been a great stalwart of the Church in Kerala. His spirituality was a rare combination of immense social and spiritual commitment.
“I Set You As A Covenant For The People” (Isaiah 49:8)
He is described as the St. Benedict of India for he fathered and moulded religious life in India. He founded the first indigenous religious congregation of India in 1831 by name 'Carmelites of Mary Immaculate'. Later with the help of Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD, the Italian missionary, he started the indigenous congregation for women religious known as the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel. He had personally initiated the first seven Indian monasteries, which became the spiritual nerve centres of the Kerala Church in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Understanding the great importance of the training of the clergy, he started a Major Seminary in Mannanam near Kottayam in 1833. This was also the first major seminary in the Syro-Malabar Rite. Systematic seminary formation was given in this seminary, not only for religious candidates but also for diocesan clergy of the time. There was a time when as many as a hundred and fifty seminarians were undergoing training at one time in this seminary. In 1894, this seminary was amalgamated with the seminary at Puthenpalli which later shifted to Alwaye in 1932.
Around this time, there was the threat of the Rochos schism looming over the Kerala church. In 1861, Kuriakose Elias had been appointed the Vicar General of the Syro-Malabar Christians who were being governed by the Verapoly archdiocese. This appointment was primarily meant to counter the schismatic influence of Mar Thomas Rochos. Kuriakose Elias realized the pre-eminent role of the priest to counter this schism and to establish and foster integral Catholic faith among the believers.
“Like A Shepherd He Feeds His Flock” (Isaiah 40:11)
His love for the Church was incomparable and he wanted all the faithful to remain loyal to the Catholic Church by leading an authentic and vibrant Christian life. With great pastoral zeal, he had introduced devotional practices in the churches in order to keep faith alive in the hearts of the people.
He was convinced that Catholic faith is to be lived centered on the Holy Eucharist. For this purpose, he had introduced what later became immensely popular - as the Forty-Hour Eucharistic Adoration. All the parish priests were instructed to send the people to participate in such Eucharistic devotion. Together with introducing the Adoration, detailed instructions were given on God's Love manifested in the ultimate expression of God giving Himself to us in the form of bread and wine. The people were encouraged to make the Holy Eucharist the source of strength and direction for their lives. One would call to mind the memorable words of Pope John Paul II instructing the whole Church that the Holy Eucharist is the Source, Centre and Summit of Christian life. Alongside this, pious practices such as meditations of the Way of the Cross and the Rosary were introduced in the life of the Church.
The Way of the Cross was meant to keep the Paschal Mystery of our salvation alive in the hearts of the people. The Rosary devotion popularized by the saint has kept the Catholic families in Kerala united in prayer every evening. Pope John Paul II speaking to the Kerala bishops, had commended highly the strong tradition of the family rosary and remarked that due to this, there was the rich harvest of priestly and religious vocations in this Church. He also introduced the ministry of preaching God's Word to the parishes and instructed the Fathers of his congregation to take the proclamation of the Word as priority.
“I Appoint You… To Uproot And To Tear Down, To Build And To Plant” (Jeremiah 1:10)
This servant of God was not only an untiring spiritual visionary but also a social revolutionary. In his time, the Kerala society was ridden with the caste system. The higher castes that consisted of ‘namboodiris’ and ‘nairs’ dominated the political economic and social structures keeping the lower castes under oppressive and inhuman situations. Only the members of the upper castes were allowed access to the facility of education. The vast majority was in servile dependency for their meagre livelihood. The heart of Kuriakose Elias was deeply grieved over this pitiable predicament. His love for God urged him to take a prophetic stand to bring about a social change where all are brothers and sisters.
Education, he realized, would be the key to this emancipation. He started the first school for the poor in Mannanam in 1846 and that was also in Sanskrit language. Soon more schools were founded attached to churches, and as the Vicar General, he gave orders that every church should have an adjacent school. The schools were open to all irrespective of caste and creed. He instructed all the parents that it was their responsibility to send the children to school because in his words, "Children are God's investment in the hands of the parents." He told the children that they had to prepare for a bright future by studying hard for he said wisdom was food for the spirit -, as important as natural food was for the body. He introduced free noon meals in the schools. This practice was adopted later by the rulers of the time and has come to stay on in all the schools to this day across this country.
In a prophetic vision, Kuriakose Elias understood the indispensable value of media for the propagation of faith. In those days, there were no spiritual books available to the Catholics for their spiritual growth. Only two printing presses were functioning in Kerala - one in Kottayam belonging to the Protestant missionaries and the other in Trivandrum owned by the government. Having a first-hand experience of the Press in Trivandrum, he instructed a carpenter to manufacture a wooden press. He was able to make available to people spiritual reading material. It was in this wooden press that in 1887 that the first Malayalam daily called Nazarani Deepika was first printed and published. Indeed he was responsible for ushering in an age of enlightenment among the people!
As a man whose heart beat for love of God, he was drawn to focus on the least of the brethren of Jesus. The people whom society despised as anathema, Kuriakose reached out to serve. In 1869 he started a home for the destitute. This in fact was the first charitable institution in the Syro-Malabar church. His advice to the members of his congregation was to be always available to the poor and marginalized of society. All the pioneering activities of this man of God stemmed from his clear prophetic vision of what society should be. As St. Francis of Assisi has rightly said, "Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify your society."
“A Man After My Own Heart; He Will Carry Out My Every Wish” (Acts 13:22)
In his total commitment to Jesus Christ, his prime concern was to mould his life after Jesus. As Jesus was intimately united with the Heavenly Father in the Holy Spirit, this man of God was always deeply aware of the in-dwelling Presence of God in his heart. During his lifetime, people from all walks of life recognized the depth of his spirituality and called him 'Servant of God', 'Divine Person' and 'Man of Divine Vision'. The first person who wrote his biography was his own confessor and spiritual director, Fr. Leopold Beccaro OCD. On the day of the death of Kuriakose Elias, Fr. Leopold wrote in his diary, "O beautiful and holy soul, pray for me."
The people of his time saw in him a remarkable man of God and longed to get a blessing from him. It is recorded that when he was travelling, people who came to know he was in the vicinity ran after him to get blessed by him. He was always at the disposal of the sick and the suffering, consoling and comforting them. St Alphonsa during her intense suffering was comforted when she had a vision of Kuriakose. He was truly a contemplative in action. The Compassion of the Lord that filled his heart, flowed out of him - rebuilding distressed lives and a decadent society. His integrated spirituality was moulded by his intense love for God and his radical openness to the needs of his fellowmen. As St. Augustine had rightly said, "The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God and of one another in God."
Euphrasia – Mystic and Intercessor
Rev. Sr. Euphrasia CMC, lovingly called ‘Evuprasiamma’ by the sisters and the neighbours, continues to be honoured as the ‘Praying Mother’ to all. She was born on 7 Oct 1877 in Kattoor, a village near Thrissur in Kerala. Her maiden name was Rose Eluvathingal. She grew up in a wealthy family of landowners. It is said that at the age of nine, she had received an apparition of Mother Mary - an overwhelming experience that inspired her to devote her life totally to God. The piety of her mother deeply influenced her prayer life. Her mother used to relate to her the stories of St Rose of Lima, which strengthened her resolve to live for God. She entered the convent of the Sisters of the Mother of Carmel which was founded by the saintly Fathers Chavara Kuriakose Elias and Rev Leopold Beccaro. After her religious profession on 24 May 1900 at St Mary's Convent, Ollur, she was appointed as Assistant Novice Mistress and later as Novice Mistress. In 1930 she was made Mother Superior of the convent where she was to spend the rest of her life.
“My Beloved Is Mine, And I Am His” (Songs 2:16)
Since her childhood, Euphrasia suffered frail health. At one time during her formation, it became so critical that her superiors were to send her back from the convent. During this phase, she had a vision of the Holy Family and she was healed of her sickness and could continue in the formation. It was a rare spiritual courage that sustained her then and all through her life.
Among the Sisters, she was known as the 'walking tabernacle' because of the remarkable Divine Presence she radiated. Sr. Euphrasia spent much of her time in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. Her soul was so close to God that she could receive visions from above which led her to experience ineffable joy in spite of the hardships of failing health. From the letters she wrote to Mar John Menachery, the Bishop of Trichur and her spiritual guide, we understand that she had risen to the mystic level of spiritual betrothal that St. Teresa of Avila speaks of. In such moments of intense love and joy, her soul was united with God in an intimate mystical union with the Lord.
The sick and the suffering from the neighbourhood would constantly come to her asking for her intercession. With a divinely charming smile, she would console them and tell them, "I will not forget, not even after death." These words are etched in the hearts of the people of the time and are bequeathed to the younger generation of today who flock to her tomb seeking her Divine intercession. As in her lifetime, even today her heavenly presence remains in the St Mary's Convent at Ollur as a tender compelling force inviting all to God's Love. The Praying Mother remains a consoling hope for everyone in need - leading all to God.
This holy nun shows the way to and challenges all the consecrated persons in the Catholic Church to be men and women of prayer. Her closeness to God was her greatest asset, leading her to be raised to the glories of the altar where she shall be venerated as a Saint of God. It is such holiness which makes consecrated life credible and relevant for the people. Though largely confined to the inner cloister of the convent for an entire lifetime, her sanctity has radiated across continents and down generations as the life-giving aroma of Christ.
These two saints by their commitment to Christ conquered the ravages of time and fickle human memory; they even conquered death to live on forever captivating the hearts of all generations to shed heaven’s graces upon these.
Let Us Pray
Heavenly Father, we thank You for the two saints You have given to the Church and very specially to our country. They are luminous stars shining in the heavenly places. Let the rays of the light of their sanctity enlighten our ways to reach You.