Pope Francis to canonize first Palestinian saints

Jerusalem Patriarchate hails sainthood of two 19th-century Catholic nuns as a ‘blessing from heaven on our land’

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

19th century Catholic nuns Miriam Bawardy (L) and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas (R) are to be canonized by Pope Francis May 17, 2015. (Screen capture: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)
19th century Catholic nuns Miriam Bawardy (L) and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas (R) are to be canonized by Pope Francis May 17, 2015. (Screen capture: Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem)

Pope Francis is set to canonize two nuns who lived in 19th-century, Ottoman-era Palestine next week in what Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate has hailed the as the first recognition of modern-day Palestinian saints.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will attend the consecration mass ushering Marie Alphonsine Ghattas of Jerusalem and Mariam Bawardy of Galilee into sainthood at the Vatican in Rome on May 17.

In a pastoral letter published last month, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Tawal, said that the church was in “full preparation” for the ceremony, and called the upcoming canonization a “blessing from heaven on our land, devastated by violence yet persevering in our longing for peace and justice.”

Bishop William Shomali told journalists that the pair’s canonization “means that holiness is still possible, that… spiritual perfection is still possible,” in a press conference in Jerusalem last week.

“Our Holy Land continues to be holy, not only because of the holy places it hosts, but also because good people live here,” he said.

“I believe that not only Christians but also Muslims and Jews can be happy because two persons from our country joined the highest degree of human righteousness, spiritual wisdom and mystical experience of God,” Shomali said, emphasizing the pair’s regional connections.

“It is extraordinary: This name is common to Jews, Christians and Muslims. May they become a bridge between us all.”

In February, Pope Francis announced that the two nuns would be canonized — the first from the region to gain sainthood in the modern era.

Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1847, and spent much of her life helping the poor and teaching in schools and orphanages. She also co-founded the order of Congregation of the Rosary Sisters. Ghattas was beatified — the final step before canonization — in 2009, after she was believed to perform a miracle by saving a group of young girls from drowning.

Bawardy was born in Galilee, present-day northern Israel, in 1843. After becoming a nun in France, she helped found convents in in Bethlehem and India. The Catholic Church has noted Bawardys gifts of spiritual prophecy, and she is believed to have received the stigmata. She died of a gangrene infection in 1878 at 33 years old and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983.

“The Catholic Church has its own parameters to honor the best and outstanding among its faithful,” Shomali said.

“Our Holy Land has given hundreds of saints during its long history. Our greatest saint is Holy Mary, mother of Jesus.

“But we have three only from the modern period, whose language was not Greek, or Latin, nor Aramaic, but Arabic. Holiness can be conjugated with the Arabic language.”

The canonization of a third Palestinian — a Salesian monk — is still under review by the Church.

AFP contributed to this report.

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