MANNANAM, India (CNS) — More than 100,000 pilgrims thronged the Chavara shrine in southern Kerala state as Kuriakose Elias Chavara was canonized by Pope Francis Nov. 23 at the Vatican along with Euphrasia Eluvathingal, a member of the religious order founded by St. Chavara.
Thousands of people patiently waited in line for hours ahead of the live telecast of the canonization, which began at mid-afternoon local time, to pray at the tomb of St. Chavara, founder of the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, a Syro-Malabar Catholic order.
“I wanted to celebrate this great day here,” Joseph Parayil, who had traveled more than 60 miles to be at the shrine to watch the ceremony, told Catholic News Service.
As Pope Francis pronounced the canonization of the two saints, even elderly women applauded as they watched the telecast on one of the dozen giant screens placed around the premises of the hilltop shrine.
St. Chavara lived at the shrine for 33 years until 1866.
Soon after the Vatican ceremony more than 100 priests concelebrated a Mass of thanksgiving for the pilgrims.
“Today the spirituality of India has reached the heavens. Father Chavara founded the first Indian religious congregation,” said Bishop Thomas Koorilos Chakkalapadickal of the Syro-Malankara Diocese of Tiruvalla during his homily.
Born in 1805, Chavara was ordained a priest in 1829. Two years later, he co-founded the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate, the first indigenous congregation. It now more than 3,000 professed members.
In 1866, Father Chavara also founded the Congregation of Mount Carmel, a women’s congregation with 6,500 members.
Oommen Chandy, Kerala’s chief minister and an Orthodox Christian, and Hindu ministers in his cabinet stood around St. Chavara’s tomb in front of the altar before the final blessing.
“With Father Chavara and Sister Euphrasia becoming saints, the entire Kerala society is being blessed today,” he told the pilgrims after the two-hour Mass.
Besides “setting off a spiritual renewal” among the Christians, Chandy reiterated that St. Chavara paved way for many social changes in Kerala.
By insisting that churches open “pallikoodam” (a school attached to church) to educate the low castes who were not allowed to enter schools at the time, the chief minister pointed out that “Father Chavara laid the foundation for the educational revolution of our state.”
Kerala is the most literate and educationally advanced state in India because of the work of the Catholic Church, which runs nearly half of the 15,000 private primary schools in the state. Catholics comprise less than 12 percent of Kerala’s population of 35 million.
Those attending the ceremonies were pleased by the canonizations.
“I am blessed and happy,” said Beeyar Prasad, a Hindu TV programmer. He delivered the concluding speech, describing St. Chavara’s legacy at Mannanam, during a rally concluding the celebrations that began with a rosary procession on the eve of the canonization.
“I am a lover of poetry and it is the beautiful poems and writings of Father Chavara that has made me his fan,” Prasad said.
“His writing on family life is relevant for every family whether Christian or Hindu,” he added.