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Palestinian Nuns Among Latest Saints Declared By Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas following a canonization ceremony for four nuns, including two Palestinians, in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on Sunday.

Two nuns from 19th-century Palestine are now saints after being canonized by Pope Francis, in a move seen as aimed at encouraging Christians across the Middle East who are facing persecution by Islamist extremists.

According to The Associated Press:

"Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints Sunday at a Mass in a sun-soaked St. Peter's Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an estimated 2,000 pilgrims from the region, some waving Palestinian flags, were on hand for the canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity.

"Church officials are holding up Bawardy and Ghattas as a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians across the Mideast at a time when violent persecution and discrimination have driven many Christians from the region of Christ's birth."

The BBC says "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and over 2,000 Christian pilgrims from the region attended the ceremony."

The other two nuns who were canonized are Saints Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve from France and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception from Italy, the AP says.

The move by Francis follows the Vatican's decision, announced last week, that the Holy See would sign a treaty with the "State of Palestine," an implicit acknowledgement of the political body.

"Yes, it's a recognition that the state exists," said the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman at the time.

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