Pope declares sainthood of two Indians, four Italians

Pope Francis gestures as an Indian national flag is waved during a canonisation ceremony to make saints out of six men and women, in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican November 23, 2014.

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis conferred sainthood on two Indians and four Italians on Sunday, praising their "creative" commitment to helping the poor.

Francis added to the roster of Catholic saints a Keralan mystic nun, an Indian priest and social reformer, the former Bishop of Vicenza, and three members of the Franciscan order.

"They responded with extraordinary creativity to the commandment of love of God and neighbour," Pope Francis told crowds in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican.

"Their preference for the smallest and poorest was the reflection and measure of their unconditional love of God," said Francis, who chose his own papal name after the saint of Assisi, who symbolises austerity and love for the poor.

Portraits of the newly sanctified hung from St. Peter's Basilica, in front of which 5,000 Keralan Catholics and two local government ministers joined the crowd, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News.

Carmelite nun Sister Eufrasia was sanctified with Kuriakose Elias Chavara, who founded the sisterhood she belonged to.

Eufrasia, canonised six years after India's first female saint, was born to an aristocratic family in 1877 and took a vow of chastity aged nine.

Chavara founded two Carmelite congregations in India in the 19th century, and decreed that every church should have its own school.

Applause rang out on Sunday when Francis said the Italian saints - who between them founded refuges for pilgrims, street urchins and the sick - could inspire citizens today.

"May the example of the four Italian saints help the dear Italian people to rekindle the spirit of collaboration and harmony for the public good, and to look to the future with hope," Francis said, after a month punctuated by protests and strikes across the country.

The Italian saints were Giovanni Antonio Farina, Bishop of Vicenza in the late 1800s; missionary Ludovico da Casoria, and fellow Franciscans Nicola da Longobardi and Amato Ronconi.

The often decades-long process of considering a person for sainthood must normally wait until they have been dead for five years, and have been credited with bringing about two miracles.

A pope can bypass the five-year rule, as Francis's predecessor Benedict did for John Paul II, who had in turn started the process of sanctifying Mother Teresa of Calcutta within five years after her death in 1997.