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Pope Francis canonizes over 800 new saints

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
May 14th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Pope Francis has declared a village of 800 inhabitants from the 15th century as saints. The 800 souls are the first recognized as saints under the Pontificate of the new Holy Father.

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The 800 "Otranto Martyrs" (actually 813) were brutally slaughtered after they refused to convert to Islam following an assault on their town by Ottoman Turks.

The Ottoman Turks laid siege to the village of Otranto in 1480, and after a day, captured the town as the faithful retreated inside their cathedral. The unlucky citizens waited in terror as the Turks sacked their town.

The people were able to defiantly hold their cathedral for 15 days until the Turks demanded they surrender or be assaulted. 

Although they were unable to defend themselves against a determined assault, they still refused.

To punish the inhabitants, the Ottoman commander ordered the execution of all men over the age of 15. All of the women and children were to be enslaved.

According to legend, the first man they beheaded was the de facto leader, an elderly tailor, Antonio Primaldo. He was decapitated while standing and although dead, his body remained upright until the executions were finished. No amount of force could push his body over.

In an added twist of cruelty, many family members were forced to assist in the executions of the faithful.

Despite the savagery of the executions, the Christians died bravely, so much so in fact, that one of the Ottoman commanders, known as Bersabei, converted to Christianity. He was later impaled by his own men for this offense.

After almost three years, an Aragonese army liberated the town.

The bodies of the 813 saints were discovered uncorrupted in 1481, and the process of canonization started in 1539. That process finally came to a conclusion Sunday, with the May 12 canonization by Pope Francis.

In canonizing the new saints, Francis was clear that the declaration was not to be interpreted as anti-Islamic. He did however speak of the ongoing persecution of Christians around the world.

"While we venerate the Otranto Martyrs, we ask God to sustain the many Christians who, today, in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence and give them the courage to be faithful and to respond to evil with good," Pope Francis told a crowd of 70,000 in St. Peter's Square.

The Church has asked people to understand their martyrdom in its "historical context" as opposed to an anti-Islamic one.

Pope Francis also added two other saints to the list, Colombia's first saint, Madre Laura a nun, and another saint from Mexico, Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, also a nun.

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