Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Sunday, 12 October 2008 16:27 UK

India gets Christian woman saint

By Alan Johnston
BBC News

Poster featuring Sister Alphonsa and Pope Benedict ahead of her canonisation 12 Oct
Sister Alphonsa has long been revered in India

A Catholic nun, Sister Alphonsa, has become India's first female Christian saint, at an event presided over by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

The canonisation was greeted with delight by Christians in the southern Indian state of Kerala, where Sister Alphonsa lived until her death in 1946.

It is being described as a boost to the spirits of India's Christians.

A number of people have been reported killed recently in Hindu attacks on Christian communities in India.

Sister Alphonsa said that she was completely devoted to Christ by the age of seven.

According to a Vatican biography, when she was only 13 she deliberately thrust her foot into a pile of burning embers.

Her aim was to make herself less attractive, and therefore less likely to be forced into marriage.

She wanted instead to be free to dedicate her life exclusively to God, and eventually she entered a convent.

Sister Alphonsa endured successive bouts of illness and died in her mid-30s.

Pope Benedict greets Indian Christians in Rome after canonising Sister Alphonsa
The Pope offered support to India's Christian minority

In the Vatican's view, Jesus led her to perfection through a life of suffering.

And it credited her with miraculously curing illnesses after her death.

As the Pope declared Sister Alphonsa to be a saint, church bells rang out and firecrackers were set off in celebration in her normally sleepy home town.

Thousands of worshippers had crowded around the small church there to watch the ceremony, which was broadcast live from Rome.

They heard the Pope say that his prayers were with India's tiny Christian minority at the moment.

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