ROME — Pope Francis canonized two 19th-century nuns from Ottoman-ruled Palestine on Sunday, just days after the Vatican moved to formally recognize a state of Palestine, offering tacit support to a bid for full sovereignty.
The canonization of Sister Mariam Baouardy, who founded a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, and Sister Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, who founded a congregation of nuns, was not related to the Vatican’s announcement last week of a new treaty with the Palestinians, Vatican officials said Friday.
The two new saints, now named St. Mary of Jesus Crucified and St. Marie-Alphonsine, are being held up as beacons of encouragement to Christian communities in the Middle East that are being persecuted by Islamic extremists.
Sunday’s ceremony in St. Peter’s Square was attended by the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who met with the pope on Saturday, and about 2,100 people from the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Israel, led by the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal.
Last week before leaving for the Vatican, the patriarch called the canonization of the two nuns “a spiritual event of prime importance for the citizens of the Holy Land, amid the difficulties we are experiencing.” He added: “As the Holy Land, wrecked by violence and dissent, has for some time had a tarnished image, our two saints emerge to restore its sanctity, reminding us that sanctity is possible even in the most difficult circumstances.”
Both new saints were given variations of the name Mary, a name “widespread and commonly used” in Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions, Patriarch Twal said. “It is a sign of our modern time, which suggests that we can talk about the three religions without any discrimination,” he said.
The two Arab nuns were also symbols of encouragement to women, whose role in some countries of the Middle East is still undervalued, said the Rev. Rifat Bader, director of the Catholic Center for Studies and Media in Amman, Jordan. As examples of the presence of Arab Christians in the region, he said, they offered “a message to our citizens to respect each other irrespective of religion.”
Two other women were also canonized on Sunday: St. Jeanne Émilie de Villeneuve, a French nun, and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception, a nun from Italy. In his homily Francis praised the four women for the “luminous example” they set, living in unity with others “and with charity toward all.”
“Inspired by their example of mercy, charity and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look to the future with hope, continuing in the journey of solidarity and fraternal coexistence,” the pope said.
The two Arab saints were born within a few years of each other. Mariam Baouardy was born in 1846 in a village in Galilee, and is said to have had visions and displayed stigmata, the wounds of Jesus. She went on to found Carmelite convents in Bethlehem and India, and died in 1878.
“Her life and intercession are a cry urging respect for religious and ethnic differences,” Father Rifat said.
Marie Alphonsine Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1843. Schools affiliated with the congregation she founded “have a prominent and influential presence in Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, the gulf states and Rome,” he said, and have reduced illiteracy among girls and women in the region. She died in 1927.