By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis will raise 5 new saints of the Catholic Church to the glory of the altar during a solemn Eucharistic Celebration in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, October 13. Among them is an Indian - Sr. Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, the foundress of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family (CHF).
The others are English Cardinal John Henry Newman, Swiss laywoman Marguerite Bays, Brazilian Sister Dulce Lopes and Italian Sister Giuseppina Vannini.
A religious and mystic, Sister Mariam Theresia was born in Puthenchira, in southern India’s Kerala state, on April 26, 1876. Belonging to a once rich and noble family with extensive landed property, the future pioneer of the family apostolate grew up in piety and holiness under the loving guidance of her saintly mother, Thanda. In her intense love for God, the 8-year old girl gave herself up to austere, penance, fasting and prayer. She wanted to be conformed ever more to the likeness of the suffering Christ to whom she also consecrated her virginity at an early age.
In imitation of Jesus, she helped the poor, nursed the sick, visited and comforted the lonely people of her parish.
She was also blessed with the stigmata but kept it secret to avoid attention. She received several mystical gifts like prophecy, healing, an aura of light, sweet odour and frequently had ecstasies and levitations. Her entire existence was tormented by demons and she offered her sufferings for the remission of the sins of the world.
Thresia and three companions who joined her led a life of prayer and austere penance and continued to help families, visiting the sick, the poor and the needy irrespective of religion or caste. This ministry led her to establish the new Congregation of the Holy Family on 14 May 1914.
Sister Thresia died on June 8, 1926, at the age of 50, and was declared Blessed by Pope Saint John Paul II on April 9, 2000.
Pope Francis on February 12 authorized a decree recognizing a miracle through her intercession, which cleared her for sainthood, and on July 1, the Pope decided on October 13 as the canonization day.
Since then, the sisters of the Congregation of the Holy Family have been preparing intensely for this great day, said Sister Udaya, the Superior General of the Congregation. In Rome for Sunday’s canonization, she explained to Vatican news that they are concentrating more on spiritual preparation and works of charity for the family than external preparation.
Sr. Udaya explained that the nuns have been dedicating themselves to prayer and have had a special weeklong retreat on the spirituality of Mariam Thresia. They are holding the daily Holy Hour and night vigils on Saturdays.
They are observing special fasting days apart from their normal routine and have abstained from meat for the past 2 to 3 years.
At her tomb at the Mariam Thresia pilgrim centre at Kuzhikkatussery in Kerala, the sisters and parishioners have been praying the rosary for 3 hours along with the Divine Mercy chaplet. They also have a 12-hour adoration starting at 7 am.
Alongside these spiritual exercises, the sisters have been visiting families, in line with the special charism of Mariam Thresia who urged a compassionate love for families.
The congregation decided that from July 1, when the canonization date was announced, to October 13, the canonization day, every sister would visit at least 50 families. These visits would include enquiring about the spiritual and other needs of families.
Programme in Rome
The Congregation of the Holy Family has organized a vigil at St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome at 4 pm on Saturday, October 12. Among those joining it will be the bishops of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church and pilgrims and devotees from all over the world.
Pope Francis will lead the Mass of canonization on Sunday in St. Peter’s Square, during which he will officially proclaim Mariam Thresia and 4 others saints.
On Monday, October 14, the day after the canonization, the sisters are having thanksgiving Mass and celebration in the morning a St. Anastasia’s Basilica, next to the Circus Maximus.
Programme in India
On canonization day, Sunday, there will be a concelebrated Mass presided over by retired Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop George Panikulam, at the pilgrim centre of Mariam Thresia in Kerala, India. The faithful there will be following the canonization ceremony in Rome via a video link.
The congregation has planned an afternoon thanksgiving Mass on November 16 at the Mariam Thresia Shrine.
More than the external preparation, Sr. Udaya explained, her sisters are concentrating more on concrete acts of charity for the family such as housing projects, helping marrying couples, students, the sick and others. She said they are investing 4 times more on charitable projects than on the canonization celebration.
The Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Family said that the miracle regarded a pre-term baby boy born with a life-threatening respiratory problem. The doctors had prescribed a particular medicine through a special ventilator which was not immediately available. On the third day, when the child was gasping for breath, the doctors sounded the alarm bell.
The parents and grandparents of the child are great devotees of Mariam Thresia. The grandmother placed a relic on the child and urged all to pray earnestly to Mariam Thresia. There was a “drastic improvement” on the child in about 20 to 30 minutes. The immediate healing could not be explained medically.
Sr. Udaya explained that it was a surprising coincidence that the miracle took place on April 9, 2009, the same day that Mariam Thresia was declared Blessed in Rome. The miracle was presented to Rome for the cause of canonization in 2013, several years after the healing and it was accepted by the Vatican.