Pope to name seven new saints

Pope Benedict XVI is preparing to name seven new saints including the first Native American, marking the start of a "Year of Faith" aimed at countering the rising tide of secularism in the West.

Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) - informally known as "Lily of the Mohawks" - lived in an area that is now on the border between the US and Canada and is worshipped by believers in native religions as well as Catholics.

She will be canonised at St Peter's Basilica at a lavish ceremony on Sunday that follows her beatification in 1980 by the late pope John Paul II. At least 1500 Canadian pilgrims - many of them from First Nations communities - are expected to attend.

The other new saints include a French missionary to Madagascar, a Philippine seminarian martyred at the age of 17, a German migrant to the US who took care of lepers, and a Spanish nun who campaigned for women's rights.

Vatican watchers said the choice of the saints now was linked to the Catholic Church's efforts to highlight the need for a "new evangelisation" as church pews empty in Europe and the US.

The canonisations are being announced during a synod of 262 bishops from around the world.

Tekakwitha, who had an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, was converted by Jesuit missionaries as a child. After surviving smallpox and being orphaned, she earned a following for her deep spiritualism before dying at just 24.

Another well-known figure from North America being canonised is German-born Franciscan nun Maria Anna Cope (1838-1918). She is known as "Mother Marianne of Molokai" because she looked after lepers on the island in the Hawaii archipelago.

A French Jesuit, Jacques Berthieu, who was executed in 1896 in Madagascar by rebels from the Menalamba movement, is also on the list. The missionary had refused to renounce his faith and is being considered the first saint of Madagascar, where he lived for 21 years.

France's Socialist government, which has tense ties with the Catholic Church, will be sending Interior Minister Manuel Valls to the ceremony.

Another "martyr" who will be canonised on Sunday is the Philippines' Pedro Calungsod, a young seminarian who was killed on the island of Guam when he visited with a Jesuit priest to baptise a young girl. The young man could have run away from the killing but chose to stay.

A German lay woman Maria Schaeffer, who was from the pope's German home state of Bavaria, is also being rewarded. Schaeffer, who died in 1925, was badly burnt after falling into boiling water and spent the rest of her life bedridden. She is credited with spreading the word of God in local villages.

An Italian priest, Giovanni Battista Piamarta, who in the late 19th century devoted his life to helping young people during the industrial revolution and founded a religious congregation, is also being canonised.

The seventh new saint, Spanish nun Maria del Carmen, also founded a congregation and worked to better the lot of poor women in the 19th century, defending their social rights and helping their children's education.

The new canonisations will bring to 44 the number of saints named by the pope since the start of his pontificate in 2005.

Catholic saints must have two miracles to their names which have to be certified by the Vatican in a years-long procedure.

- AFP

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