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Otranto martyrs canonised

17 May 2013

By Simon Caldwell


Papal greeting: Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of the canonisation mass in St Peter's Square, on Sunday

Papal greeting: Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of the canonisation mass in St Peter's Square, on Sunday

POPE FRANCIS has presided over the largest group canonisation in history by declaring as saints more than 800 Italians martyred by invading Ottoman Turkish forces for refusing to convert to Islam.

The Pope said that the martyrs of Otranto, who were beheaded in 1480, were able to face death only because of their deep faith. He told pilgrims in St Peter's Square, Rome, that such faith "allows us to see beyond the limits of our human eyes, beyond the boundaries of earthly life, to contemplate the 'heavens opened', as St Stephen said". He then offered prayers for the many Christians around the world who "still suffer violence".

The martyrs were beatified in 1771.

Pope Benedict had confirmed that the canonisations could proceed on 11 February - the same day as he announced that he would abdicate the papacy.

During the mass on Sunday, Pope Francis also canonised a fellow South American, St Laura Montoya, the first Colombian-born saint. She died in 1949, after founding the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St Catherine.She was described by the Pope as a "spiritual mother of the indigenous peoples".

The Pope also canonised a Mexican nun, St Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, who shunned a comfortable life to serve the most needy as the foundress of the Handmaids of St Margaret Mary and of the Poor.

Pope Francis warned thousands of people at the mass that "the gentrification of the heart paralyses us," and urged them to heed her example. He said that the saint, who died in 1963, served the sick "with tenderness and compassion".

Known as Mother Lupita, she also sheltered Catholic fugitives of the socialist persecution of the 1920s.

Her canonisation came as the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the Neo-Pagan Mexican cult of Santa Muerte, or "Holy Death", as blasphemous. Worshipping Santa Muerte was, he said, a "degeneration of religion".

The cult, which idolises death, has been growing swiftly. It is represented by a cloaked female skeleton holding a scythe.

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