Pope Francis granted sainthood to two 19th century Ottoman-era nuns on Sunday during a ceremony in Saint Peter’s Square, a move which many see as encouragement for Middle Eastern Christians facing persecution and hardship.
The two women, Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, will become the first Arabic speaking female saints in recent history. The two lived in Bethlehem and East Jerusalem during the 19th century when area was ruled by the Ottomans. Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas founded the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem during the late 1800s, and died in 1927. Maryam Baouardy, who founded a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, and died in 1878.
Both women faced poverty and difficult living conditions, yet still managed to help those in need. Additionally both nuns supposedly received apparitions by the Virgin Mary and to have performed miracles, an essential requirement of Catholic sainthood.
Ghattas is known to have saved the life of an electrician in 2009, over a century after her death. When the man was badly injured on the job, his family prayed for Ghattas’ aid and later he awoke from his coma and achieved a full recovery. Bawardi healed an Italian newborn with a heart defect, who had no chance of survival. After prayer, the baby recovered fully with no need for surgery.
The canonization occurs just days after the Pope reiterated the Vatican's recognition of Palestinian statehood. Although the Vatican said that the canonization of the two nuns is not directly associated with the announcement of the new accord with Palestine, President Mahmoud Abbas a delegation of senior clergy, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, and over 2,124 people from the Palestinian territories and Jordan attended the ceremony at the Vatican.
Upon departure for the Vatican. Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal expressed gratitude to Pope Francis, stating
that the historic canonization of the nuns was a sign of solidarity “during these dark times” for Middle Eastern and Palestinian Christians.
"The declaration of the sainthood of the two nuns from Palestine is a spiritual event of prime importance for the citizens of the Holy Land, amid the difficulties we are experiencing, as the two saints enlighten our path,” Twal said “As the Holy Land, wrecked by violence and dissent, has had a tarnished image for some time, our two saints emerge to restore its sanctity, reminding us that sanctity is possible even in the most difficult circumstances."
On Saturday, the Pope met with Abbas privately, calling him an “angel of peace
,” while urging the Palestinian leader to renew peace negotiations with Israel.
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