COLOURFUL celebrations marked the feast day of India’s first native saint.
Members of Sunderland’s Malayali Catholic community gathered at St Joseph’s Church in Millfield to praise Saint Alphonsa, the first native woman saint of India.
The 500-strong congregation, many of them workers at Sunderland Royal Hospital, sang hymns and offered prayers in the church, which was decked out with white and blue balloons, before leading a procession through the streets of Millfield.
Musicians played out rhythms on chenda drums as a women and men in traditional dress carried bright parasols and a shrine to the nun, who died aged 36.
Parish priest Father Michael McCoy, said: “It is a very well established community, with the first moving here 10 years ago. We had a big mass and hymns were sung in their language, which is Malaylam.”
Also taking part in the event were Sunderland parish priests Father Michael Humble, from Holy Rosary, Holy Family and Immaculate Heart, Father Chris Jackson, from Penshaw, Indian chaplain Father Saji, Father James, a visiting priest from Canada, and Father Paschal, from Africa.
Hundreds of worshippers then enjoyed a meal at St Aidan’s Church in Grangetown.
St Alphonsa, who lived as a nun in the state of Kerala, died in 1946, and was declared a saint by Pope Benedict XV1 in 2008. Terribly burned as a young girl, she is said to have flung herself into a fire in a bid to escape an arranged marriage.
Her tomb attracts pilgrims from across the world and it is claimed children have been healed of illness at the convent school where she used to teach.