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Pope Francis canonises two Palestinian nuns

  • 17 May 2015
  • From the sectionEurope
Pilgrims gather before a holy mass in St Peter's square for the canonisation (17 May 2015)
The canonisation of the two nuns is seen as a sign of the Vatican’s support for the Christian communities of the Middle East

Pope Francis has canonised two 19th Century nuns who lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine, making them the first Palestinian saints in modern times.

Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Mariam Bawardy were among four new saints declared in Rome’s St Peter’s Square.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and over 2,000 Christian pilgrims from the region attended the ceremony.

The move is seen as a token of Vatican support for dwindling Christian communities in the Middle East.

On Saturday, Pope Francis met Mr Abbas at the Vatican, calling him “an angel of peace”.


Analysis: David Willey, BBC News, Rome

The promotion by Pope Francis to sainthood of these two women, born in Palestine when it was under Ottoman rule in the 19th Century, speaks volumes about his commitment to revitalising the diminishing Christian presence in the Middle East.

There was a large contingent of Arab Christians present in Saint Peter’s Square for the ceremony, together with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and also a delegation from Israel.

Over the past year Arabic has been added to the five main languages used in Vatican information bulletins, and a new Vatican handbook in Arabic has just been published.

Veneration of the two new Palestinian saints will now be encouraged by the Vatican among Catholics around the world, not just in the Middle East.

Both are reputed to have performed miracles, according to research by church authorities.

Vatican boost for Christians in Holy Land


Mr Abbas’ visit came just days after the Vatican formally recognised Palestinian statehood in a treaty.

The treaty states that the Holy See favours a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel and allows the Vatican to oversee aspects of Roman Catholic life in the areas President Abbas controls.

Israel expressed disappointment with the treaty, which uses the term “Palestinian state”.

Marie Alphonsine Ghattas – who was born to a Palestinian family in Jerusalem – co-founded the Congregation of the Rosary Sisters, which today runs many kindergartens and schools.

A woman attending the canonisation ceremony in the Vatican City waves Palestinian flags (17 May 2015)
Hundreds of Palestinian church leaders and supporters attended the consecration mass in Rome
In this Thursday, May 7, 2015 photo, booklets showing the likes of Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, a nun who lived in what was Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 19th century
Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, pictured here, and Mariam Bawardy, both lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine

Mariam Bawardy was born in Galilee to Greek Catholic parents from Syria and Lebanon.

A mystic, she is said to have carried out many miracles and to have experienced stigmata – wounds representing those suffered by Jesus on the cross.

Both nuns were educators who lived through tough conditions, overcoming male dominance in Ottoman society, poverty and ill-health while helping others.

They are said to have seen apparitions of the Virgin Mary and remained in close communication with her.

By granting these women sainthood, the Church is celebrating their good works but it is also showing support for Christians in the birthplace of their religion, the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Jerusalem reports.

The total number of Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories has declined to less than 2% of the population.

This is partly because of growing Jewish and Muslim populations, but also because of the conflict and the chance of better opportunities abroad, our correspondent adds.