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
The martyrs were beatified
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
Known as Mother Lupita, she
also sheltered Catholic fugitives of the socialist persecution of
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.