Ornate Indian parasols decorated the exterior of St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus Church in Greenpoint, where hundreds of Indian Catholics rejoiced over their newest saint.
Devotees from Brooklyn and Queens as well as New Jersey, Connecticut and Philadelphia attended a Sunday afternoon Mass of thanksgiving on Dec. 7 to celebrate the canonization of St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara.
Elevated to sainthood along with five other blesseds by Pope Francis in Rome on Nov. 23, St. Chavara is one of the newest saints of the Syro-Malabar Church, an Eastern rite church in full communion with Rome.
Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio attended the canonization ceremony and was the main celebrant of the thanksgiving Mass. Auxiliary Bishop Mar Joy Alappatt of the Syro-Malabar Diocese, Chicago, served as homilist, and Bishop Thomas Mar Eusebius of the Syro-Malankara Exarchate in the U.S., offered congratulations. More than a dozen priests concelebrated.
“As we celebrate this Mass in honor of the new saint, we recognize that in his life he was able to balance prayer and good works,” Bishop DiMarzio told the congregation.
That balance, the bishop later said, “is a very good model for all of us. … If we want to be active properly in the life of the church and do good, we need to be people of prayer. I think he gives a great example of that.”
Mass began with the procession of a first-class relic of St. Chavara, who was a 19th-century priest known for his zeal and vision. Born in Kerala, India on Feb. 10, 1805, he was ordained a priest of the Syro-Malabar Church at age 24 and embraced a life of contemplation and action until his death on Jan. 3, 1871.
Spirtual and Social Reform
Known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, the Virgin Mary and the Holy Family, he introduced the 40 Hours Devotion in India and spread Marian devotions. Putting his faith into action, St. Chavara became a force for spiritual renewal and social reform in his native land, Bishop Alappatt said in his homily.
St. Chavara is perhaps best recognized as the founder of the first indigenous religious order for men in India, known as the Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (C.M.I.). The congregation has nearly 2,000 priests ministering in about 27 countries. Six priests serve in Brooklyn diocesan parishes, including St. Anthony-St. Alphonsus.
He also began a women’s branch of the C.M.I., called the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (C.M.C.), which has around 6,500 nuns serving around the world. One of its members, St. Euphrasia Eluvathingal, was canonized alongside St. Chavara.
Bishop Alappatt noted that St. Chavara also started seminaries, worked for the sanctification of priests and laity and was a patron of family life.
His vision of the Church, according to Bishop Alappatt, was to “make men and woman holy and save them, not as isolated individuals, without any bond or link, but as a community of people.”
Socially, he implemented the creation of a school for every Catholic church in his diocese, paving the way for universal literacy. In doing so, he challenged the prevailing caste system, which banned schooling among lower classes. He started a printing press to share religious books and opened homes for the sick and destitute.
“St. Chavara accomplished a lot of things in his lifetime,” Bishop Alappatt said. “How could he do all of these things? God was with him.”
The miracle for his canonization was the 2009 cure of a serious eye ailment in a nine-year-old girl from Kottayam, Kerala, India, who prayed at the future saint’s tomb.
“We are delighted to see our founder canonized,” shared Carmelite Father Kavungal Davy, C.M.I. coordinator general in the U.S. and Canada. “We have been fasting, abstaining from meat and making other sacrifices” to hasten his sainthood cause.
Father Davy attended the canonization ceremony in Rome. Among the thousands present were 26 C.M.I. priests from the U.S., including three from the Brooklyn Diocese, and Bishop DiMarzio.
Father Davy returned from Rome with a first-class relic of St. Chavara, which was placed on the altar by a statue of the saint during the thanksgiving Mass.
“I’m really proud that someone from my hometown is a saint in heaven,” shared Sister Regi Kuriakose, D.C.P.B., from St. Gerard Majella Church, Paterson, N.J., who paused in prayer before the relic.
Originally from Kerala, she attended Catholic elementary and high schools, which were erected because of St. Chavara.
“I feel like he gives us inspiration that we can be saints too,” she said.
Following a short documentary on St. Chavara’s life, Bishop Eusebius expressed his gratitude to God “for having given us such a wonderful saint.”
Bishop Eusebius said that what he finds most striking about St. Chavara’s life “was his commitment to the promotion of families. He realized that a healthy society can be founded only on healthy families.”
The bishop added that St. Chavara invited, inspired and challenged families to engage in regular prayer and devotion to the holy Eucharist, both in his lifetime and today.
“I always pray to him,” said Sheeba Francis from Guardian Angel parish, Brighton Beach, who attended Mass with her husband Joshy and their children, Hannah, six, and Ethan, 14 months.
“He gave importance to the family and the Holy Eucharist. So I pray for my family,” Francis said, “especially my children, that they grow up with God’s grace.”
“He has given me immense hope and courage to face the realities of (family) life,” said Merline Augustine, of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in Norristown, Pa., who attended Mass with her husband, their daughter and special-needs son.
“He teaches us to have a balanced life. It is easy when you give everything to God and devote yourself to God as he (St. Chavara) did,” she said.
Educated in two of St. Chavara’s schools, Augustine developed a deep devotion to him.
“In college, I went almost everyday to his tomb to pray,” she said. “I prayed that I would see him become a saint.”
Not only did it happen in her lifetime, but she was also blessed to attend the canonization in Rome. She brought her whole family to the Mass of thanksgiving in Greenpoint.
“We all pray to St. Chavara a lot,” she said.