VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis named two Palestinian women as saints on Sunday, in a ceremony in Saint Peter's Square just days after the Vatican formalised its de facto recognition of the State of Palestine.
The canonisation of Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founder of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, and Maryam Baouardy, who founded a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, was not directly connected with the Vatican's Wednesday announcement of a new accord with the State of Palestine.
But the ceremony, attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a delegation of senior clergy including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, highlighted Pope Francis' longstanding drive to help embattled Christian communities in the Middle East.
Saint Peter's Square was decked out for the occasion with portraits of the Palestinians and two other newly sanctified nuns - the French Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve and Italian Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception Brando.
In a statement as he departed for the Vatican last week, Twal said Ghattas and Baouardy, who entered religious orders as teenagers in the late 1800s and died in 1927 and 1878 respectively, were an example for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
"It is a sign of our modern time which suggests that we can talk about the three religions without any discrimination," the patriarch said in a statement as he departed for the Vatican.
The canonisations of two Palestinians were the first of their kind "since the days of the apostles," Twal said.
On Saturday, the Pope met Abbas for a private visit, calling him "an angel of peace" and urging a renewed effort to find peace with Israel.