BY JOHN THAVIS IN ROME
POPE BENEDICT XVI has canonised four new saints, including the first woman from India, where Christians have come under attack in the last month from Hindu gangs.
After the two-hour liturgy in St Peter's Square on Sunday the Pope made a pointed appeal for an end to violence against India's Christian minority.
He spoke after declaring sainthood for St Alphonsa Muttathupandathu, a nun from south-western India who was known for her holiness during a lifetime of suffering. The other new saints included an Italian priest, a Swiss missionary sister and an Ecuadorian laywoman.
The Pope said their lives of faith and sacrifice should inspire contemporary Christ tians in all walks of life. As he pronounced the canonisation decree, enthusiastic pilgrims waved flags and held up pictures of the new saints.
The liturgy marked a special moment for Indian Catholics. Thousands of Indian pilgrims, including many nuns and priests, cheered as the biography of St Alphonsa was read aloud. An Indian government delegation was also present.
The Pope called for an end to violence against Indian Christians. in the wake of attacks on Church personnel and institu
dons. "As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time. Commending to the providential care of almighty God those who strive for peace and reconciliation, I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sister s to work together in building a civilisation of love."
Since August anti-Christian violence by Hindu mobs in the Indian state of Orissa has left about 60 people dead. hundreds injured and thousands displaced. The Indian government met in early October to discuss the growing problem.
The Pope spoke in his homily about St Alphonsa's life of extreme physical and spiritual suffering before her death.
"This exceptional woman, who today is offered to the people of India as their first canonised saint, was convinced that her cross was the very means of reaching the heavenly banquet prepared for her by the Father," the Pope said.
"She wrote: `I consider a day without suffering as a day lost.' May we imitate her in shouldering our own crosses so as to join her one day in paradise."
St Alphonsa was born in 1910, and at an early age was determined to become a nun after reading the lives of the saints. When a marriage was arranged for her at the age of 14, she deliberately burned her foot so that her disfigurement would allow her to avoid the engagement.
She joined the Franciscan Clarist Congregation at 17 and taught for a while. but was soon confined to her convent because of a succession of illnesses, including typhoid fever, pneumonia, skin infections and a wasting disease.
At the same time her life was marked by periods of spiritual joy. She said she was convinced that God had destined her to be a "sacrifice of suffering". She died peacefully in 1946. '
The others canonised were St Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran, a 19th-century Ecuadorian known for her deep prayer and penitence; Si Gaetano Errico, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in the 19th century, and Sister Maria Bernarda Butler, a Swiss nun who founded the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary, Help of Sinners.
Pope Benedict has now created 18 new saints in his pontificate of three and a half years. His predecessor, Pope John Paul II, presided over the canonisation of more than 450 new saints.