13 May 2013
At a ceremony in Rome, Pope Francis has created the first saints of his reign. They include 800 Italians who were beheaded for refusing to convert to Islam after their city was captured by Turks six centuries ago.
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It's taken more than six centuries for the Catholic Church to officially recognise the heroism of hundreds of citizens of Otranto, a small town in the south of Italy who were executed by an invading Turkish army when they refused to convert to Islam.
But there was no hint of any anti-Islamic sentiment in the homily that Pope Francis delivered before tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St Peters Square. Martyrs, he said, inspire Christians who are still suffering violence in many parts of the world, to respond to evil with good. He refrained from naming any single country, although the Catholic Church is deeply concerned about attacks on Christian communities in the Middle East and in East and West Africa.
Later this month an Italian priest murdered by the Sicilian mafia twenty years ago will be beatified - the last step before he too is declared a saint. Pope Francis, following the example of his immediate predecessors, is continuing the process of honouring a new generation of modern as well as historic martyrs. He wants to remind the world that thousands of Christians are still being persecuted for their faith and sometimes being killed in circumstances related to their religion.
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actions that show great bravery
- to convert
(here) to change your religious belief
feeling or attitude
short speech on a moral or religious subject
people who suffer or are killed because of their religious beliefs
- refrained from
stopped himself from (doing or saying something)
(after someone's death) said by officials in the Catholic Church to be an especially good or holy person
publicly showing respect
treated very badly or unfairly for a long time