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Two Palestinian Nuns Named Saints by Pope Francis

posted on: May 18, 2015

Two Palestinian Nuns Named Saints by Pope Francis
General view of St.Peter’s square as Pope Francis leads a ceremony for the canonisation of four nuns in the Vatican City, May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

BY: Nisreen Eadeh/Staff Writer

On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two Palestinian nuns, just days after the Vatican announced it would sign a treaty to formally recognize Palestinian statehood, and offer its support in a bid for sovereignty.

Pope Francis canonized Sister Mariam Baouardy, founder of a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, and Sister Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, founder of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, at a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Baouardy, now named St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, and Ghattas, now named St. Marie-Alphonsine, entered the religious order in the late 1800s. Baouardy was born in 1846 in Galilee, now part of Israel, and is said to have visions and stigmata (the wounds of Jesus Christ) before her death in 1927. Ghattas was born in 1843 in Jerusalem, and is said to have championed women’s literacy in her region before her early death in 1878. Pope Francis said the women emerged to “restore [the Holy Land’s] sanctity, reminding us that sanctity is possible even in the most difficult circumstances.”

In his statement, Pope Francis said this was an important moment for citizens of the Holy Land, which has been tarnished by years of conflict. The patriarch hopes that this canonization will hold symbolic encouragement for Christians in the Middle East. With the Palestinian Christian population dwindling in the Palestinian territories and Israel, Pope Francis and President Mahmoud Abbas call on Christians of the Holy Land to stop emigrating, and look forward to a future of living in a free, independent Palestine defined by equal citizenship.

Two Palestinian Nuns Named Saints by Pope Francis
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (front row, on L) applauds as Pope Francis leads a ceremony for the canonisation of four nuns at Saint Peter’s square in the Vatican City, May 17, 2015. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Palestinian Christians have participated in resistance of the Israeli occupation since the beginning, but many continue to leave in order to gain freedom of movement and better opportunities for employment and education. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, the number of Palestinian Christians living in holy cities, such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, has shrunk significantly. In 1947, Palestinian Christians made up 85% of Bethlehem’s population; today, they are less than 20% of the population. In East Jerusalem, Palestinian Christians are only 2% of the city’s population, compared to 19% in 1947. In Gaza, there are roughly 3,000 Palestinian Christians still living in the blockaded region.

Baouardy and Ghattas are the first Palestinians to be canonized since the time of the apostles, making the event a cause for celebration for Palestinians. In attendance of the ceremony were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and 2,100 Palestinians from the West Bank, Jordan, and Israel. Palestinian Christians living in the territories hope this will bring more Christians back to the church, and discourage Christians from moving to other countries.

“With such a significant international and historic recognition,” said Dr. Amal David, a Palestinian Christian who left Nazareth at a young age, “Palestinians will, once again, gain confidence, pride, and dignity in their homeland, the Holy land!”

Two Palestinian Nuns Named Saints by Pope Francis
REUTERS/Tony Gentile