LINKS between the Palestinian people and the Roman Catholic
Church have been strengthened significantly recently by the
canonisation of two Palestinian nuns, and the laying of grounds for
closer relations between the two sides.
During a mass in St Peter's Square, Rome, on Sunday, Pope
Francis canonised Blessed Marie-Alphonsine Ghattas and Blessed
Mariam Baouardy. The two nuns, who lived in Ottoman-controlled
territory in the 19th century, join a handful of Arabic-speaking
Catholic saints in the Middle East, most notably in Lebanon.
The ceremony on Sunday was witnessed by many church leaders and
representatives from the Middle East, and by the head of the
Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
The new St Marie-Alphonsine, the Vatican said, "succeeded in
gaining the support of the religious authorities to set up the
first local Arab religious congregation, and placing the Arab world
on the map in the fields of education and religious teaching. .
"St Mariam of Jesus Crucified was subjected to acts of
extremism, and suffered an attempt on her life in an attempt to
force her to change her religion. She now intercedes for those who
are being killed because of their religion and of their religious
affiliation. Her life and intercession are a cry urging respect for
religious and ethnic differences as well as acknowledging human
beings as creatures who are made in the image and likeness of
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Most Revd Fouad Twal,
described the declaration of the sainthood of two nuns from
Palestine as "a spiritual event of prime importance for the
citizens of the Holy Land, amid the difficulties we are
He said that the Holy Land, "wracked by violence and dissent,
has for some time had a tarnished image", and that the canonisation
of the two women would "restore its sanctity, reminding us that
sanctity is possible even in the most difficult circumstances".
President Abbas viewed the canonisations as "an inspirational
message" emphasising Palestinian unity, which affirms "our
determination to build a sovereign, independent, and free
Palestine, based on the principles of equal citizenship and the
values of spirituality and sublime humanity".
Pope Francis has been assiduous in supporting Christians in the
Middle East as a whole, as they struggle to survive against a range
of challenges. He has visited the region, and hosted high-level
meetings with Middle Eastern representatives in the Vatican.
Seeking international diplomatic recognition is one of the few
options left open to the Palestinian leadership, with another
right-wing government in power in Israel committed to expanding the
Jewish presence on Arab land.