Bengaluru: Does canonisation spread pseudoscience? The question has become the basis of an outrage from a community of doctors in Kerala, after the Catholic church elevated a nun from the state to a saint based on her divine interventions to heal a sick child.
Sister Mariam Thresia, an iconic nun and native of Kerala’s Thrissur district who died in 1926 at the age of 50, was declared a saint by Pope Francis on Sunday. The canonisation, the highest recognition of the sanctity of an icon in the Catholic church, was made at a grand ceremony in the Vatican’s St Peter’s Square. It was attended by an august delegation of high-profile Keralites, comprising BJP leader and Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan, Congress leader and Thrissur MP TN Prathapan and former Supreme Court Judge Kurian Joseph.
About 300 sisters from the ‘Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family’, which Mariam Thresia had founded, also attended the event.
But back home, it has riled a community of doctors, the Kerala chapter of Indian Medical Association or IMA, led by the secretary and doctor Sulphi Noohu. Normally, canonization requires two miracles. In the nun’s case, one miracle was approved by a doctor. A prematurely born baby in Thrissur’s Amala hospital in 2009 had developed a critical condition, from which he recovered after taken to Thresia’s tomb for praying, according to his parents. One of the doctors who treated the baby, Dr Sreenivasan, approved it as a miracle and had said that the divine intervention of the Holy Mother saved the baby.
IMA says this is akin to spreading pseudoscience. Noohi’s Facebook post attacking the doctor for lending a scientific credential to the so-called divine intervention has gone viral in the state. “We are not against any belief and we respect all. I do pray before I enter an operation theatre. But what we oppose is the stamp of approval for a miracle. If somebody says prayers fully cured one, it is difficult to comprehend for the medical community," he told Hindustan Times on Monday.
In response, the church officials have come out defending the miracle. Father Varghese Vallikattu, deputy secretary-general of the Kerala Catholic Bishop Council (KCBC) told CNN-News18, "Miracles are there, miracles exist. How can we rule that out? Every day you see miracles, if you have the eye for it."
“We are not against beliefs. We respect all religious sentiments. What we are saying his we need evidence that somebody’s illness was cured by some kind of medical procedure or whatever thing. So if somebody claims that I have cured somebody’s illness by doing something, that is what we are saying. We are not against any beliefs," Noohi said.
Kerala has been a strong turf for harvesting miracles— Mariam Thresia is the fourth person to be elevated to sainthood— partly because the people in the state are not shy to request divine intervention when a relative is sick or when a marriage is in trouble or when the husband drinks too much.
In the Marxist state, there is also no prohibition for doctors from providing evidence of miracles, except moral ones. A confrontation between the church and the doctors has been more or less waiting to emerge, since the Vatican reportedly began to lean more on the medical community to explain inexplicable cures.