VATICAN CITY, JUNE 10, 2001 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II pleaded for Mideast peace today as he canonized five people, including Lebanon´s first native saint.
About 30,000 pilgrims, including 10,000 Catholics from Lebanon, were on hand for the canonizations in St. Peter´s Square. Notable in the crowd were the flags with the cedars of Lebanon.
The liturgy of Trinity Sunday, “feast of sanctity,” as the Pope described it, was enriched by the hymns of the Maronite liturgical tradition.
For the Lebanese, the life of their new saint, Rebecca Pierrette Ar-Rayes (1832-1914), is not only a model but a message. Like so many of her countrymen, Rebecca experienced violence, forced exodus and physical suffering. In canonizing her, John Paul II wished to give a forceful message of hope to Christians of that country.
After offering her health to God, Rebecca — or Rafqa, as she is known — lost her sight. For 30 years she endured excruciating pain in her face, and eventually suffered a painful paralysis and was covered with sores.
In honoring her memory, John Paul II said: “May St. Rafqa watch over those who are suffering, in particular, the peoples of the Middle East, who face the destructive and sterile spiral of violence!”
“By her intercession, we ask the Lord to open hearts in the patient search for new paths for peace, hastening the days of reconciliation and harmony,” the Pope said in his homily.
Also canonized was Father Luigi Scrosoppi (1804-1884), known as the protector of AIDS patients. Among those present at the canonization was Peter Changu Shitima, a 27-year-old Zambian, miraculously cured of AIDS by the priest´s intercession.
The other three new saints are Sicilian Bernardo da Corleone (1605-1667), a killer who later entered the Capuchin order; Agostino Roscelli (1818-1902), Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Italian Teresa Eustochio Verzeri (1801-1852), founder of the Institute of Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
John Paul II has now canonized 451 saints.