BHARANANGANAM, India (UCAN) -- Women just entering the Franciscan Clarists and others confirming their life commitment say India's first woman saint inspired them to join Religious life.
The story of Saint Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception "motivated me to join a convent," said Sister Helen, one of three Kenyan nuns who on Nov. 8 made their perpetual vows as full-fledged members of the saint's congregation.
At the same function, 98 Indian novices also received their Religious habit, a sign of their provisional entry into the congregation. The ceremonies took place in Bharananganam, the village in Kerala state where the saint spent her final years, 2,650 kilometers south of New Delhi.
Sister Helen told UCA News afterward that she had heard a lot about Saint Alphonsa, whom Pope Benedict XVI canonized on Oct. 12 at the Vatican. "I prayed to Saint Alphonsa to give me strength to emulate her life," the 24-year-old Religious added.
Sister Jacinta, another Kenyan nun, said she felt thrilled on making her final profession. "Saint Alphonsa inspired me to become a nun. In our country, only a few women join the convent. But here I found a large number of young women opting for Religious life."
More than 30,000 people attended the four-hour program, which began with a procession of novices and their parents from the saint's tomb inside a hilltop chapel to St. Mary's Church, 100 meters downhill.
Retired Bishop Joseph Pallikaparampil of Palai led the Mass, assisted by four other bishops and scores of priests.
Sister Sharon, one of the novices who received their habit, told UCA News she has prayed to Saint Alphonsa whenever she faced problems. "Saint Alphonsa taught us with her life to accept our sufferings as signs of God's love. I wanted to follow her steps as a nun," she added. Her family lives in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh state, 1,200 kilometers northeast of Bharananganam.
Sister Sharon's father Elvin Minj, a police officer, recalled encouraging his daughter when she expressed a desire to join Saint Alphonsa's congregation.
"We know about Saint Alphonsa and her life from our parish priest, who hails from Kerala. We are very happy today as we could visit her tomb and pray there," said Minj, who came with his wife and son to attend the event.
After receiving her Religious habit, Sister Theresa from Imphal in Manipur state, 3,880 kilometers northeast of Bharananganam, told UCA News she wants to serve as a missioner and take the saint's message to more people. Saint Alphonsa, she pointed out, proved that prayer and penance can heal the world. "I want to tell more people about this, because the saint's message is more significant today," the young nun added.
According to the congregation's superior general, Sister Ceelia Mankuriyil, Saint Alphonsa's simple life and devotion to Jesus continues to draw many young women to her congregation, which started in Kerala in 1888 with eight members. Sister Alphonsa led a life full of misery and pain, but took all her pains as a mark of God's love toward her, the superior told UCA News.
Her congregation now has 6,783 members in 20 provinces around the globe -- in Austria, Germany, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United States, besides India.
On Nov. 9, a day after the profession ceremonies, more than 100,000 people gathered around the saint's tomb to celebrate the canonization with a Mass and public meeting. Dignitaries included Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Vatican-based Congregation for Oriental Churches, and former Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.