Two 19th Century nuns, who lived in what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine and were native Arabic speakers, will be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, May 17.
The nuns, Mariam Bawardy of Galilee and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem, will be among four new saints declared in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and over 2,000 Christian pilgrims from the region will be present at the ceremony.
The move is seen as a token of Vatican support for dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East.
On May 16, Pope Francis met Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican.
Mahmoud Abbas’ visit came just days after the Vatican formally recognized Palestinian statehood in a treaty.
The treaty states that the Holy See favors a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and allows the Vatican to oversee aspects of Roman Catholic life in the areas President Mahmoud Abbas controls.
Israel expressed disappointment with the treaty, which uses the term “Palestinian state”.
Mariam Bawardy was born in Galilee to Greek Catholic parents from Syria and Lebanon.
A mystic, she is said to have carried out many miracles and to have experienced stigmata – wounds representing those suffered by Jesus on the cross.
Marie Alphonsine Ghattas – who was born to a Palestinian family in Jerusalem – co-founded the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, which today runs many kindergartens and schools.
Both nuns lived through tough conditions, overcoming male dominance in Ottoman society, poverty and ill-health while helping others.
They are said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary and remained in close communication with her.
By granting these women sainthood, the Catholic Church is celebrating their good works but it is also showing support for Christians in the birthplace of their religion.
The total number of Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories has declined to less than 2% of the population.
This is partly because of growing Jewish and Muslim populations, but also because of the conflict and the chance of better opportunities abroad.
Hundreds of thousands of people have turned out in Sri Lankan capital Colombo to see Pope Francis celebrate a Mass at which he canonized the nation’s first saint, Joseph Vaz.
Pope Francis urged people to follow the example of 17th Century missionary Joseph Vaz at the service in Colombo.
On January 13, the pontiff called for the “pursuit of truth” to promote “justice, healing and unity” after years of war.
Government forces defeated Tamil rebels in 2009 after 26 years of war, in which both sides were accused of atrocities.
Pope Francis arrived early for the Mass on January 14, informally greeting worshippers.
People showed up for the sea-front service at Galle Face Green, with many lining up from Tuesday to secure a place.
In keeping with his message of unity for Sri Lanka, Pope Francis urged its citizens to follow the example of Joseph Vaz and learn to overcome religious differences.
The Pope said St Joseph dedicated his life to the gospel message of reconciliation, and showed “the importance of transcending religious divisions in the service of peace”.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental human right. Each individual must be free alone or in association with others to seek the truth and to openly express his or her religious conviction,” Pope Francis said.
The Church usually stipulates a potential saint must have two miracles attributed to them, but St Joseph has apparently been fast-tracked.
Joseph Vaz is credited with just one miracle, whereby a pregnant Indian woman who was told that her baby was in danger prayed to St Joseph and the child was saved.
There has been a great deal of enthusiasm for Joseph Vaz’s sainthood, not just from the Catholic community of Sri Lanka but also from India’s Catholic community.
Pilgrims came from all over Sri Lanka, and parts of India, to see Pope Francis.
However, some Buddhist activists have objected to the canonization and complain that the Catholic Church’s violent campaigns during its early years led to the destruction of Buddhist temples.
Pope Francis’ visit is part of a six-day tour of Asia which will also see him visiting the Philippines.
Later on Wednesday Pope Francis will speak at prayers in Madhu in the north, a region which saw some of the fiercest fighting in the war.
The conflict arose from ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhalese and the Tamil minority. The United Nations said both sides committed atrocities against civilians and has approved a war-crimes inquiry. Sri Lanka has so far refused to co-operate.
More than one million Sri Lankans (about 7%) are said to be Christian, most of them Catholic. They include both Sinhalese and Tamils.
About 70% of Sri Lankans are Buddhist, with 13% Hindus and 10% Muslims.
The last papal visit was 20 years ago, when Pope John Paul II was boycotted by Buddhist leaders.
However, on January 13, Pope Francis met a group of Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim leaders, urging reconciliation.
Pope Francis has declared Popes John Paul II and John XXIII saints in a ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of people in St. Peter Square.
Pope Francis praised his two predecessors as “men of courage” at the Vatican service, the first time in history that two popes have been canonized at the same time.
The Mass was attended by Pope Emeritus Benedict, who quit as pope last year, and roughly 100 foreign delegations.
Analysts say Pope Francis is trying to balance the conservative legacy of John Paul with the reforming zeal of John.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis during Mass before the canonization ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II
At the climax of the service, Pope Francis said in Latin: “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.”
Relics of each man – a container of blood from John Paul and a piece of skin from John – were placed near the altar.
Pope Francis paid tribute to the two new saints as “priests, bishops and popes of the 20th Century”.
“They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful,” he said.
The Vatican estimated some 800,000 pilgrims had poured into Rome to see the two-hour ceremony first-hand.
For those unable to make it into St Peter’s Square, giant screens were set up in nearby streets and elsewhere in the city.
Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII’s canonization is bringing attention to the complex process of becoming a saint, a highly regulated series of steps that can seem quite mysterious to those who are not devout Roman Catholics.
How many saints are there?
It’s hard to pin down an exact number, but more than you might think. In the old days – as in the first thousand years of the church’s history – saints were created by popular demand.
St. Ulrich of Augsburg was the first to be canonized by a pope, in 993, and the Vatican eventually took over and formalized the process.
The Vatican’s Roman Martyrology says some 7,000 people have been canonized or beatified (an earlier step), but some scholars believe the total number of saints is more like 10,000.
Is it easier or harder to become a saint now?
The raw numbers would suggest it’s easier, though they don’t tell the entire story.
Pope Francis, who has been pontiff for just over a year, has already canonized 817 men and women, but 813 of them were martyrs from a single group of Italians who were beheaded by Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century.
Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII’s canonization is bringing attention to the complex process of becoming a saint
John Paul II canonized 482 during the quarter-century he presided over the church, but more than 400 of those were from groups of martyrs, according to the Catholic World Report.
By contrast, Pope Benedict XVI added 45 saints during his pontificate.
Does every pope become a saint?
Yet, only about a third of all popes are saints, and it’s getting harder to make the leap the from St. Peter’s throne to sainthood, according to the Pew Research Center.
Fifty-two of the first 55 popes got the nod but that pace has slowed dramatically. Only five popes have become saints in the last 1,000 years, although that will now shoot up to seven. Four more popes who died between 1878 and 1978 are in the pipeline – Pius IX, Pius XII, Paul VI, and John Paul I – but John Paul II leapfrogged ahead of them.
Can sainthood be revoked?
Canonization is permanent but some saints have been, for lack of a better term, demoted – by being dropped from the Vatican’s list of official feast days, sometimes because of questions about whether they actually existed.
One notable example is Saint Philomena, who was recognized in 1835 after a tomb with a remains of a teenage girl was found in the Roman catacombs with the inscription “Filumena” and a symbol of martydom, according to the Times of London.
The Vatican suppressed her cult in 1960 after experts decided there was no evidence linking the bones in the tomb to the legend of a martyred Greek princess.
Saint Christopher, the patron of travelers, lost his standing in 1969 – although not his popular cachet if the number of medals hanging from rear-view mirrors in cars is any indication. St. George, the patron of warriors, was also bumped down that year but restored in 2001 without explanation.
Where can I find a list of all the saints?
The compendiums that exist are extensive, but not necessarily exhaustive. And you might want to brush up on your Latin.
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the bureaucratic arm of the church that shepherds candidates through the complex steps, published the Index ac Status Causarum in 1998 with the names of the blesseds and saints – but only for the previous 400 years.
An oft-cited reference is Butler’s Lives of the Saints, but that was written in the mid-18th century and only contains 2,500 biographies in its latest revision.
Then there is the Acta Santorum, an index based on feast days that has 68 volumes, the first of which was published in 1643. A cluster of scholarly Jesuit priests in Brussels, the Bollandists, is toiling to complete it in chronological order, using church records and old texts in myriad languages to verify that the saints deserve veneration.