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Pope Benedict celebrated a canonization mass in Saint Peter's Basilica during which he proclaimed five new saints. They included a Belgian priest, Father Damien, who cared for leprosy victims in Hawaii at the end of the 19th century.
Pope Benedict presided on Sunday over a canonization ceremony in Saint Peter's Basilica attended by tens of thousands of faithful. He elevated five people to sainthood, including a Belgian priest known as "the leper's apostle."
The others were 19th century Polish archbishop Zygmunt Felinski, two Spanish monks, a Dominican, Francisco Coll y Guitart, and a Trappist, Rafael Arnaiz Baron. The latter was considered one of the greatest mystics of the 20th century.
A woman was also elevated to sainthood: Jeanne Jugan of France founded the order of the Little Sisters of the Poor in the 18th century. By the time she died, her institute had 2,500 workers looking after elderly and solitary women in 177 homes around the world. The pope said the new saints responded with their whole existence to the Lord's call to follow Him, being witnesses of charity and defending the truth.
The Belgian priest Jozef De Veuster, better known as Father Damien, was elevated to sainthood for his work with leprosy patients on the Hawaiian island of Molokai in the 19th century. His work was described during the ceremony.
Father Damien, said a Vatican official, was unanimously recognized for his work despite abuse by the civilian authorities and withering public opinion. He died of leprosy in 1889.
A large delegation of some 500 people from Hawaii, including the bishop of Honolulu Richard Silva, traveled to Rome to take part in the ceremony. Among those present in the basilica was a group of elderly Hawaiian leprosy patients, sitting on wheelchairs.
An 80-year-old retired teacher and Hawaiian resident, Audrey Toguchi, also attended the special occasion. She is believed to have been miraculously cured of terminal cancer after she prayed to Father Damien.
President Barack Obama, who was born and partly raised in Hawaii, has expressed admiration for Father Damian and sent a presidential delegation to the Vatican for the occasion.