Pope Francis will canonize two native-born Palestinian nuns at a ceremony at the Vatican in St. Peter’s Square on May 17. The event in Rome will be attended by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. As far as is known, Israel will not be sending an official representative.
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The nuns are Mariam Baouardy, aka Blessed Mary of Jesus Crucified, who died in 1878 at the age of 35; and Blessed Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, who died in 1927 at the age of 80.
Baouardy, a mystic, was born to a Greek Catholic family in the Galilee village of Ibillin in 1843. As an adult she joined the Carmelite order at a convent in France. She established convents in India and Bethlehem, and planned to build one in Nazareth but died at a young age, before she could do so. Her canonization process began back in 1927. In 1981, Pope John Paul II recognized her as venerable (the first stage in the process); she was beatified in 1983 and will now be declared a saint.
Ghattas was born to a Christian family in Jerusalem and joined the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition at age 15. She established the Congregation of Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary, an order of Arab women who devote their lives to serving the Church in the Holy Land, which is still a large and very active order in Jerusalem. She was recognized as venerable by John Paul II in 1995 and beatified by Pope Benedict in 2009.
At a press conference held Sunday by senior members of the Roman Catholic Church in Israel, the deputy Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop William Shomali, said, “I believe that not only Christians but also Muslims and Jews can be happy, because two persons from our country joined the highest degree of human righteousness, spiritual wisdom and mystical experience of God.
“The two saints lived in Palestine before it was divided. They did not know the Israeli Arab conflict. I am sure they follow our situation from heaven and will continue to intercede for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land. Their intercession is strong and efficacious. By coincidence, both are called Mary, Miriam. It is extraordinary: This name is common to Jews, Christians, Muslims and Jews. May they become a bridge between us all.”
In order to complete the canonization process and be declared saints, miracles have to be attributed to the candidates. The investigative committee of the Church charged with this task determined that the two women in question were connected to two miracles that took place in recent years.
Ghattas is said to have helped rescue a resident of Kafr Kana who was electrocuted while working in the Beit Dagan area in 2009, and was saved thanks to his relatives’ prayers to her.
Baouardy, it was determined, saved the life of a child who was born in Italy and suffered from a serious illness. In that instance, friends of his parents – who had experienced a spiritual encounter with Baouardy during a pilgrimage to Israel – had prayed for his welfare.
Simaan Srouji of Nazareth has been in the process of canonization for several years, prior to becoming a saint.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the two Palestinian nuns canonized Sunday as the first Arabic-speaking saints. The Catholic Church has declared other Arabic-speaking saints, including at least three from Lebanon.