Pope Francis canonized two nuns from what was 19th-century Palestine today in hopes of encouraging Christians across the Middle East who are facing a wave of persecution from Islamic extremists. Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints today. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an estimated 2,000 pilgrims from the region, some waving Palestinian flags, were on hand for the canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity. They were canonized alongside two other nuns, Saints Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve from France and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception from Italy.
"Inspired by their example of mercy, charity, and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look with hope to the future," Francis said.
- Bawardy was a mystic born in 1843 in what is now the Galilee region of northern Israel. She is said to have received the "stigmata"—bleeding wounds like those Jesus Christ suffered on the cross—and died at the age of 33 in Bethlehem, where she founded a Carmelite order monastery that still exists.
- Ghattas, born in Jerusalem in 1847, opened girls' schools, fought female illiteracy, and co-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary. The order today boasts centers all over the Middle East that operate kindergartens, homes for the elderly, and medical clinics.
Francis praised Bawardy as having been "a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world," while Ghattas "shows us the importance of becoming responsible for one another, of living lives of service to one another."