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Canonisation of Palestinian nuns sends signal of support

22 May 2015


Vatican welcome: Pope Francis greets the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas

Vatican welcome: Pope Francis greets the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas

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 God."

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 experiencing".

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.

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