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Pope Bestows Sainthood on Italians Massacred by Ottomans

  • VOA News

The tapestries, from left, of Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena Montoya of Colombia, Antonio Primaldo and his companions, also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala of Mexico hang from balconies in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, May 12, 2013, as Pope Francis celebrate the canonization ceremony for the three new saints.

The tapestries, from left, of Laura di Santa Caterina da Siena Montoya of Colombia, Antonio Primaldo and his companions, also known as the Martyrs of Otranto, and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala of Mexico hang from balconies in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, May 12, 2013, as Pope Francis celebrate the canonization ceremony for the three new saints.

Pope Francis has proclaimed his first Roman Catholic saints, including hundreds of Italians who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam in the 15th century.

In his first Sunday canonization ceremony since beginning his reign in March, Francis also named a Colombian nun as the first saint of the South American nation and granted sainthood to another nun from Mexico.

Francis' predecessor, Benedict, had approved the sainthoods in February while announcing his retirement.

The newly-canonized Italian saints known as Antonio Primaldo and his Companions were massacred in 1480, when Ottoman Turks invaded the southern Italian town of Otranto in 1480 and demanded that its Christian inhabitants convert to Islam. When the inhabitants refused, the invaders beheaded a group of about 800 men and boys, who became revered by Catholics as the Otranto Martyrs.

Benedict had offended some Muslims during his eight-year papacy with remarks seen by them as equating Islam with violence. The former pontiff said he was misunderstood. But, relations between the Vatican and Muslims have remained sensitive and it is not clear how they will respond to the canonization of the Italians killed by the Ottomans.

In an address to more than 60,000 pilgrims who attended the ceremony, Pope Francis said many Christians around the world still suffer violence due to their faith and he prayed for them to have "the courage to respond to evil with good." He did not single out any countries.

A woman holding a poster of Mother Laura Montoya watches her beatification ceremony on a giant TV screen in her hometown of Jerico, Colombia, May 12, 2013.

A woman holding a poster of Mother Laura Montoya watches her beatification ceremony on a giant TV screen in her hometown of Jerico, Colombia, May 12, 2013.

Francis also canonized Colombian nun Laura of St. Catherine of Siena Montoya y Upegui and Mexican nun Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, both of whom founded religious orders and died in the 20th century.

Laura of St. Catherine dedicated herself to helping Colombia's indigenous people, while Guadalupe Garcia Zavala worked with the sick and poor.

The pope also used his address to speak out against abortion for the first time since his election, calling for "respect for human life from the moment of conception." He lent his support to an Italian group campaigning for promoting legal protection for embryos.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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