VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Sunday created the first saints of his reign, canonizing some 800 Italian martyrs who refused to convert to Islam in the 15th century, as well as a Colombian and a Mexican who founded congregations.
Francis used the occasion to take a firm stance against abortion for the first time since his election in March, calling for legislation to “protect all human beings from the first moment of their existence.”
Tens of thousands of faithful gathered in a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square to attend the Mass in which Francis formally bestowed the sainthoods, which had been approved by his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
The new saints include Italian cobbler Antonio Primaldo, who was killed along with an estimated 800 other Italians, who remain anonymous, in 1480 by Ottoman forces in the southern part of the country for refusing to convert to Islam.
The new pope also canonized Colombia’s Laura Montoya and Mexico’s Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, who both died in the 20th century. The two women founded religious orders and devoted their lives to helping the poor, the sick and native peoples.