Pope Francis canonized two 19th-century Palestinian nuns on Sunday in a ceremony that came shortly after the Vatican formalized its recognition of the state of Palestine. The canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christiniaty was not directly related to that recognition, but it does show how the pontiff is trying to express support to “Christians across the Middle East who are facing a wave of persecution from Islamic extremists,” notes the Associated Press. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and around 2,000 pilgrims, looked on as Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were made saints during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square. The two are now “the first Arabic-speaking saints in the Catholic church,” points out the Guardian.
The canonization of the two nuns, who were born in Palestine when it was under Ottoman rule, “speaks volumes about [Pope Francis’] commitment to revitalizing the diminishing Christian presence in the Middle East,” notes the BBC. Christians now make up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and Palestine.
The canonization came a day after the pope met Abbas at the Vatican and called him “an angel of peace.” On Sunday, the Vatican clarified that Francis used the term angel to mean “messenger.” Palestinians, meanwhile, celebrated the canonization. “It is a national day for us, not only Christians, but for all Palestinians,” Xavier Abu Eid, a Roman Catholic official with the Palestine Liberation Organization, tells the Los Angeles Times. “The sight of the Palestinian flags in Rome and at St. Peter’s Square was a joy for all of us and gave us a sense of pride.”