Pope Francis canonizes Mexican, Colombian, 813 who refused conversion to Islam

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday gave the Catholic Church new saints,
including hundreds of 15th-century martyrs who were beheaded for refusing to convert
to Islam, as he led his first canonization ceremony Sunday in a packed St. Peter’s
The ‘‘Martyrs of Otranto’’ were 813 Italians who were slain in the southern Italian city
in 1480 for defying demands to renounce Christianity by Turkish invaders who overran
the citadel.
Their approval for sainthood was decided upon by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI,
in a decree read at the ceremony in February where the former pontiff announced his
Shortly after his election in March, Francis called for more dialogue with Muslims, and it
was unclear how the granting of sainthood to the martyrs would be received. Islam is a
sensitive subject for the church, and Benedict stumbled significantly in his relations with
the Muslim community.
The first pontiff from South America also gave Colombia its first saint: a nun who toiled
as a spiritual guide to indigenous people in the 20th century.
The Argentine pope held out Laura of St. Catherine of Siena Montoya y Upegui as a
potential source of inspiration to the country. Colombia has begun a peace process after
decades-long conflict between rebels and government forces.
Francis prayed that ‘‘Colombia’s beloved children continue to work for peace and just
development of the country.’’
He also canonized another Latin American woman. Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, a
Mexican who dedicated herself to nursing the sick, helped Catholics avoid persecution
during a government crackdown on the faith in the 1920s.
Also known as Mother Lupita, she hid the Guadalajara archbishop in an eye clinic for
more than a year after fearful local Catholic families refused to shelter him.
Francis prayed that the new Mexican saint’s intercession could help the nation
‘‘eradicate all the violence and insecurity,’’ an apparent reference to years of bloodshed
linked to drug-trafficking clans.


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