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813 Italians made saints by Francis

| Sunday, May 12, 2013, 8:39 p.m.

Pope Francis on Sunday proclaimed as saints 813 Italians killed in the 15th century for refusing to convert to Islam and said many Christians were still being persecuted for their faith.

The Vatican seemed at pains not to allow the first canonizations of Francis' two-month-old papacy to be interpreted as anti-Islamic, saying the deaths of the Otranto Marytrs must be understood in their historical context.

The 800 were killed in 1480 in the siege of Otranto, on the southeastern Adriatic, by Ottoman Turks who sacked the city, killed its archbishop and told the citizens to surrender and convert.

When they refused, the Ottoman commanding officer ordered the execution of all men aged 15 or older, most by beheading.

“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,” Francis said before more than 70,000 people in St. Peter's Square.

The Vatican has expressed deep concern recently about the fate of Christians in parts of the Middle East, including Coptic Christians who have been caught up in sectarian strife in Egypt.

The first pontiff from the Americas gave Colombia its first saint: a nun who toiled as a teacher and spiritual guide to indigenous people in the 20th century.

With Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos in attendance, the Argentine pope held out Laura of St. Catherine of Siena Montoya y Upegui as a potential source of inspiration to the country's peace process, attempted after decades-long conflict between rebels and government forces.

He also canonized another Latin American. Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, a Mexican who dedicated herself to nursing the sick, helped Catholics avoid persecution during a government crackdown on the faith in the 1920s.

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