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Pope Calls for Middle East Reconciliation at Canonization of Palestinians

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Sunday called for reconciliation among the Christian peoples and for them to live in brotherhood moments after canonizing the first two Palestinian saints of the modern era in a Vatican ceremony he intended to be a message of hope for Christians in the Middle East.

“Inspired by their example of mercy, charity and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look with hope to the future, following the path of solidarity and fraternal coexistence,” Francis said of the two Palestinian nuns at the end of the Mass.

Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints on Sunday at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

Bawardy (1846-1878) and Ghattas (1843-1927) were canonized along with Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve, of France, and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception Brando, of Italy.

The ceremony began at 10 a.m. on St. Peter’s Square and was attended by more than 2,000 people from the Holy Land, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and elsewhere, along with the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal.

The two Palestinian women are the first newly-proclaimed saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity and Palestinian flags were everywhere in the huge square and in the nearby avenues.

Francis praised Bawardy as having been “a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world,” while Ghattas “shows us the importance of becoming responsible for one another, of living lives of service to one another. Their luminous example challenges us in our lives as Christians.”

Bawardy was a mystic born in Galilee and is said to have received the “stigmata” and died in Bethlehem, where she had founded a Carmelite order monastery that still exists.

Ghattas was born in Jerusalem, opened girls’ schools, fought female illiteracy and helped found the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary, an order that operates dozens of kindergartens, nursing homes, medical clinics and guest houses throughout the Middle East.

With the canonizations, the Vatican aimed to send a message of support to Christian communities in the Middle East that have been the targets of repression in mainly Muslim countries there. Many of those Christians have emigrated to escape persecution.

The canonization ceremony was the final official act during Abbas’s three-day visit to Italy, where he met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Pope Francis and Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo.

Abbas held a private meeting with the pontiff on Saturday at the Vatican, where the pair discussed their joint interest in achieving peace between Palestine and Israel and the Vatican’s support for the “two state” solution that could help an independent Palestine achieve greater international recognition.

The Catholic Church normally confers sainthood on a deceased holy person only after two “miracles” – frequently the otherwise inexplicable healing of a sick person – are attributed to the intercession of that individual.


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