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Pope canonizes 800 martyrs slain by 15th-century Islamic forces

Catholic World News - May 13, 2013

Pope Francis presided on May 13 at the canonization of 800 people who died for the faith in Otranto, Italy, in 1480.

The "martyrs of Otranto"-- whose names are not known-- were beheaded by the forces of the Ottoman empire when they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Their deaths came after a siege of Otranto by the Ottoman invaders. In his homily the Pope noted that European and Ottoman powers had clashed for decades. But the martyrs of Otranto were killed after the battle had been decided, because they refused to abandon their Christian faith. Without underlining the conflict between faiths, Pope Francis gently alluded to the continuing trials of Christians living under Islamic power:

While we venerate the Martyrs of Otranto, let us ask God to sustain the many Christians who, precisely at this time, now, and in many parts of the world, are still suffering violence, that He give them the valour to be faithful and to respond to evil with good.

"God will never leave us without strength and serenity," the Pope assured the congregation. The martyrs of Otranto drew strength from their faith, he said: from the Word of God. "It is a Word that has invited us to faithfulness to Christ, even unto martyrdom."

Also canonized during the same May 12 ceremony were Mother Laura Montoya, a 19th-century Colombian religious who became "the spiritual mother of the indigenous peoples in whom she instilled hope." She is the first canonized saint from Colombia.

Also canonized was Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, a Mexican religious who worked with the sick and sheltered priests during the years of anti-clerical persecution before finally dying in 1963. The Pope remarked that she had "renounced a life of ease-- and how damaging the easy life, well-being, can be; the embourgeoisement of our hearts that paralyzes us-- to follow the call of Jesus, who taught her to love poverty so that she could love the poor and the sick more."

With this mass-canonization ceremony, Pope Francis suddenly became the modern Pontiff who has canonized the largest number of new saints. (Pope John Paul II, during his long pontificate, canonized 91 saints.) It is highly unusual for the Vatican to canonize a large number of martyrs in a single ceremony; more typically, a single person and a number of unnamed "companions" may be beatified together. The decision to canonize the martyrs of Otranto, approved by Pope Benedict XVI before his resignation, was widely interpreted as a gesture to honor the many Christians who have fallen to the forces of militant Islam.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: chady - May. 14, 2013 9:21 AM ET USA

    'Happy are those who die in the Lord...it is the rightful inheritance of the one who proves victorious; and I will be his God and he a son to me' Rev.14:13b and 21:7

  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - May. 13, 2013 6:13 PM ET USA

    I don't understand why there would be any question about canonizing all 800 of them. They were all martyrs, they all died for the faith and all on the same day.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - May. 13, 2013 1:33 PM ET USA

    Cf. today's earlier headline, Saudi Court Sentences....

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