Pope John Paul II special for Catholics in Kerala

Thiruvananthapuram: The Catholic community in Kerala was in a joyous mood as special prayers were offered at churches for their ‘most loved’ Pope John Paul II, who would be canonised at the Vatican Sunday.

Pope John Paul II is the only Pope to have visited Kerala.

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He visited the state for two days Feb 7-8, 1986 to beatify Sister Alphonsa and Kuriakose Elias Chavara popularly known as Chavara Achen.

“Obviously, if Keralites and Catholics say that Pope John Paul II was more close to their hearts, not many can contest it because he was the only Pope to have visited our state and hence there will be a natural affinity with him,” Father Paul Thelekkat, spokesperson of the Syro Malabar Catholic church told IANS.

Pope John Paul II led the Catholic church from 1978 till he passed away in 2005.

Ahead of the papal visit, Pope John Paul II learnt the Malayalam language and for that he sought help of Vatican’s ambassador to Japan, Archbishop Joseph Chennoth, a Keralite.

“Yes, I remember the Pope beginning his prayers at Kottayam Feb 8, 1986 in Malayalam ‘Athinungelil Dhaivethinu Stuthi’ (glory to the God in the height) thrice and, believe me, the massive crowd turned delirious. I doubt if any person has ever got such a reception,” said Thomas Abraham, a resident of Kottayam.

Of the two people who were beatified by Pope John Paul II, Sister Alphonsa became the first native Indian to be canonised in 2008 and Chavara Achen is all set to be canonised later this year, after his name was cleared by Vatican earlier this month.

Christians constitute 23 percent of Kerala’s 33 million population and 50 percent of them are Catholics.