First Colombian saint and more than 800 Italian martyrs recognised by Pope Francis

Pope Francis celebrated his first canonisation ceremony at the Vatican this week. During a Mass in St Peter’s Square on Sunday the Pope canonised the first Colombian saint, a Mexican nun and more than 800 Italians martyred by Ottoman Turks in the 15th century.

The Pope praised St Laura Montoya (1874-1949), the “first saint born in the beautiful land of Columbia,” as a “spiritual mother of the indigenous peoples, in whom she infused hope.”

Mother Laura, as she was known, founded the Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate and St Catherine of Siena, who today “live and bring the Gospel to the most remote and needy places, as a kind of vanguard of the church,” the Pontiff explained.

When canonising Mexico’s St Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala (1878-1963), Pope Francis said she gave up a “comfortable life to follow the call of Jesus, taught people to love poverty, in order the more to love the poor and the sick.”

The Mexican saint, known as Mother Lupita, “knelt on the floor of the hospital before the sick, before the abandoned, to serve them with tenderness and compassion,” and in doing so “touched the flesh of Christ,” he added.

Pope Francis went on to say that the Mexican founder of the Handmaids of St Margaret Mary and of the Poor sets an example for everyone “not to retreat into oneself, into one’s own problems, into one’s own ideas, into one’s own interests in this little world that has done us so much damage.”

The Pope also paid tribute to approximately 800 people in Otranto, southern Italy, who were killed in 1480 by invading Ottoman forces for refusing to convert to Islam.

“Where did they find the strength to remain faithful?” the Pope asked. “Precisely in faith, which allows us to see beyond the limits of our human eyes, beyond the boundaries of earthly life, to contemplate the ‘heavens opened’, as St Stephen said.”

The Pope then prayed for “those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence,” and asked God to “give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good.”

Colombian and Mexican pilgrims, waving or wearing their countries’ flags, were notable in the crowd filling the square on the sunny Sunday morning.