Thousands flock to the cemetery of a little nun who spent her life unknown, unsung and unwanted within the four walls of a remote village convent. But after her death, miracles through her intercession brought her to the light of the outside world and raised her to sainthood. Known as the first woman saint of India, St. Alphonsa has revealed by her own life experience that in the Cross the meaninglessness of suffering can give way to a profound experience of the love of God and neighbor in our daily lives. Sr. Alphonsa was always called ‘Smiling Sister’. Smiling always adorned her lips and reflected the love of God in her expressions.
Unknown flower of a remote village
Born in a remote village of Kerala, South India, in August 1910, Annakutty (that was her name before religious profession), lost her mother when she was just three months old. On her death bed, her mother entrusted Annakutty to the care of her own sister Annamma. By the death of her mother, Annakutty painfully and joyfully tried to overcome the inexplicable loss of her mother and maternal love. But her aunt was her main source of not only of her goodness, virtues and trials, but also an often unsung story and history of the family values, faith practices and ecclesial foundations of the Christian faith in Kerala.
Embracing religious life
Annakutty fostered the desire of religious life from her childhood and wanted to become a nun like Theresa of Child Jesus. Later she was called the “Little Flower” (St. Therese of Child Jesus) of India. In every one of her action she followed the footsteps of St. Therese of Child Jesus who lived in a convent in France and became a saint. She was striving hard to reach the goal of sanctity by being faithful to the commitment of her baptism and the commitment through her profession of religious vows.
In the path of Faith
Faith in her commitments became the ongoing response to the Love and Holiness experienced in and from Jesus Christ. She understood well that the ultimate sign of that saving infinite Love of Jesus is nothing but Cross. Cross and suffering became her favorite path of life. In the Cross she found that the meaninglessness of suffering can give way to a profound experience of the love of God and neighbor in our daily lives.
A lover of all human beings
Sr. Alphonsa found the image of God in every human being. She loved all irrespective of caste and creed. She did not show any aversion to Hindus who lived around her. Actually, Alphonsa herself had as her best class companion a Hindu girl named Laxmikutty. By this she has shown the modern world a shining example of how the mutual interaction of the apostolic vitality of a church which is intermingled with the local cultures can lead to the blossoming of Christian dignity and sanctity
Smilingly she accepted all sufferings
Alphonsa is called as a saint of suffering as she is noted for her acceptance and love of suffering and pain. She would even ask for more sufferings and pains to invoke God’s grace for others. Her acceptance and love for suffering and her growth in the path of sanctity through such suffering and pain paved way for the depth of her relationship with Crucified Jesus Christ. Passion of Christ and its spiritual acceptance gave Sr. Alphonsa a new dimension of a positive inclusion of God and others with a constant self-emptying of the victim concerned.
St. Alphonsa herself writes, “Since only grief and suffering have fallen to the lot of my Spouse, I too lovingly embrace them, and my soul is at peace, though my body continues to be tormented. For the last seven years I have ceased to be my own, being given over entirely to my Divine Spouse.” She lived with the sufferings of Jesus Christ and prayed for others, always with a smiling face never showing her suffering.
As the late Pope John Paul II pointed out, “She came to love suffering because she loved the suffering Christ. She learned to love the Cross through her love of the crucified Lord.”
Smiling Saint, a comfort for the suffering
Today, thousands of people flock to her final resting place and pray for comfort in their sufferings. Numerous healings take place consoling hundreds of painful hearts. Burdened hearts are relieved with a new enlightenment. Smiling they return home!