Pope Francis has created the first saints of his reign, canonising the first Colombian saint, the second female Mexican and 800 Italian Christians who refused to convert to Islam and were killed by Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.
Thousands of faithful gathered on Sunday in St Peter’s Square to attend the Mass in which he formally bestowed the sainthoods, which had been approved by Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI.
The new saints include Italian cobbler Antonio Primaldo, who was killed along with an hundreds more Italians, who remain anonymous, in 1480 by Ottoman forces for refusing to convert to Islam.
“While we venerate the martyrs of Otrante, ask God to support the many Christians who still suffer from violence and give them the courage and fate and respond to evil with goodness,” Francis said.
Al Jazeera’s Claudio Lavanga said that the decision to canonise the martyrs was not Pope Francis’ idea but his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. He added that, “Given the sensitivity of the issue, was this a parting gift by benedict XVI, or an unwelcome heritance” remains to be seen.
|Pope to declare first ever Colombian saint|
Francis also used the occasion to take a firm stance against abortion for the first time since his election in March, calling for the “protection of the embryo”.
He called for legislation to “protect all human beings from the first moment of their existence,” lending his support to a pro-life march of some 30,000 that also took place in Rome on Sunday.
The two women founded religious orders and devoted their lives to helping the poor, the sick and native peoples.
Francis praised Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, whom he also referred to as “Madre Maria”, for “kneeling in front of the sick on the hospital pavement to treat them with tenderness”.
“There must be no shame, fear or disgust to touch the flesh of Christ,” Francis said.
Hundreds of Colombians and Mexicans travelled to the Vatican for the event.
Speaking before Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos, Francis also underscored his support for reconciliation efforts between the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas and called for an end to “violence and insecurity” in Mexico, where thousands of people each year fall victim to drug violence.