Pope Francis has canonized two Palestinian nuns, the first Palestinian Arabs to gain sainthood. A large delegation has attended the ceremony at the Vatican, including the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, along with Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve from France and Maria Cristina from Italy, were canonized at a Mass in St. Peter's Square on Sunday.
The ceremony was attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and several senior clergy members, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal.
Around 2,000 pilgrims from across the region also watched the service, some of whom waved Palestinian flags.
It was the first canonization of saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity.
Church officials said they hope the new saints will be seen as a symbol of encouragement for Christians in the Mideast, at a time of increased religious persecution.
"It is a sign of our modern time which suggests that we can talk about the three religions without any discrimination," Twal said.
The celebrations come a day after Pope Francis met privately with Abbas, calling him "an angel of peace" and urging him to restart peace talks with Israel.
On Wednesday it was revealed the Vatican would sign a treaty with the State of Palestine, essentially an admission of formal recognition.
The Vatican has unofficially recognized Palestine for around two years, with the pontiff referring to Mahmoud Abbas as "president of the state of Palestine" during a diplomatic visit last year.
Bawardy and Ghattas lived in Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 19th century.
Bawardy was born in Galilee, now northern Israel, in 1843. She became a nun in France and died in Bethlehem in 1878.
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1983.
Ghattas, who was born in Jerusalem in 1847, founded the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem. She died in Jerusalem in 1927, and was beatified in 2009.
The church is also reviewing the possibility of canonizing a third Palestinian—a Salesian monk.
an/bw (AP, AFP, Reuters)