Thursday, October 16, 2008


"Was St Alphonsa a doctor? Which medical college did she attend to learn how to cure people from her grave?" These are the words that one thought would flow spontaneously from self-proclaimed atheist MK Karunanidhi, Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, when he heard that Sister Alphonsa had been declared Saint by the Pope on the basis of scientifically verified miracles that physically deformed people had been cured after praying at her tomb. It was only last year that he had publicly asked a similar question about Lord Ram in response to the belief that He had built the Ram Setu. But now, Karunanidhi and many others like him are either silent or are expressing fake happiness about the fact that a nun from Kerala has been made a saint.

A few facts. St Alphonsa was born in Kudamaloor, a village near Kottayam, to Joseph and Mary Aug 19, 1910. At the age of seven, she took to serving Christ, calling him "my divine spouse", somewhat like Meera had called Krishna. She became a nun and after facing several health problems she died on July 28, 1946, in Bharnanganam. On October 12, 2008, she was declared a saint on the basis of three miracles attributed to the mystic curative powers of her tomb that have been accepted by the Vatican.

In India, there are literally thousands of dargahs (graves of sufi saints), samadhis (Sanskrit for tombs) 'peeths' (power places) and other places of pilgrimage of saints, pirs (holy Muslim men), gurus and babas (holy Hindu men) of all religions and sects. Believers cutting across religions pay obeisance to them and have faith in their various miraculous powers. But some 'modern', educated and Westernised Indians never tire of dismissing all talk of miracles as nothing but "andh vishwas" (blind belief of the brainless). When idols of Ganesh started drinking milk across India a little more than a decade back, much was said by them derisively. The same thing happened when sea water next to the dargah of Haji Ali in Mumbai miraculously turned sweet one day. There are voices now muttering the same things about the miracles of St Alphonsa and the hidden agenda of the Pope.

As far as atheists and rationalists, particularly in India, are concerned, all faith is irrational and all talk of miracles is regressive and befits acceptance only by illiterate and gullible folks living in India's villages. Many Westernised and educated Indians, specially Hindus, living in the cities do not have the courage to openly accept their Gods and beliefs while continuing to follow them, eyes wide open. How often can one see such people swearing that astrology is nothing but superstition while sporting astrologically prescribed gem stones on their fingers. How often can one find them questioning the very existence of Ram, Hanuman, Shiva, Krishna and Durga, to name just a few Hindu Gods, while privately worshipping them, particularly when in trouble! Such doubters are there in and of other religions too, but they are afraid of openly voicing their skepticism out of fear of serious reprisals by powerful religious leaders.

All religions are based on miracles and faith. Faith works for only those who believe. Keep giving as many scientific and psychological spins as you like to this phenomenon. Those who connect to the world beyond, as real as the one here, and are touched by it, cannot be fooled by all the so-called rationalizations given by science handicapped by serious limitations at its present level of development. They know what they know and are not going to pick fights with the ignorant who don't and won't.

The recognition by the Pope of St Alphonsa's curative powers that emanate from her tomb has strangely silenced a lot of people. One has not heard of Sanal Edamaruku shouting, as he usually does, that the belief that disease can be healed by praying at a tomb is an impossibility, and that what the Pope has done is nothing more than propagation of "andh vishwas". Similarly, some other modern Indian luminaries who otherwise all but mock with an air of superiority at those who visit dargahs and other such places where miracles have been experienced by many, have either said nothing or have outwardly spoken approvingly of the recognition given to miracles by the Pope in declaring Alphonsa India's first native saint. That is hold that the power of the West has over their voices and pens.

The remaining millions of us in India who believe, reverentially welcome St Alphonsa to the pantheon of not just Christian saints but of saints of all faiths who have enriched India and blessed its people of all religions with their miracles. We understand that faith is a very powerful emotion as it has always been throughout history. And with real reason.

Rather than arrogantly and ignorantly dismiss it as superstition or 'andh vishwas', this is an opportunity for some of us to realise that faith has to be recognised and respected, whether we believe in it ourselves or not. This elementary understanding will go a long way towards generating respectful sensitivity to the beliefs of all those who have experienced the miracles of God and his creation, no matter which religion or sect they follow.

Once all of us do that, the congenial atmosphere much needed for ensuring the communal harmony that this country badly needs will prevail. Is that not what every Indian wants?

This post has also been published in Chicago Sun Times
Readers may also read: Obama: closet 'Hindu' or secular world leader?