Pope names 35 new saints, most of them martyrs

2 min

Vatican City (AFP)

Pope Francis declared 35 new saints on Sunday, nearly all of them martyrs drawn from the bloody history of Catholicism's spread in Latin America.

Before a crowd of some 35,000 in St Peter's square, the pontiff carried out the rite of canonisation for 30 martyrs massacred in Brazil in the 17th century.

The two priests and 28 lay people were slaughtered by Dutch Calvinists and indigenous people in 1645, and in some cases had their hearts torn from their chests after being tortured and mutilated.

Catholicism's spread in southern Brazil started at the very end of the 1500s with Jesuit missionaries and priests from Portugal, but the arrival of Calvinists in the coming decades meant persecution for Catholics.

The new saints also included three teens slain in 16th-century Mexico due to their embrace of Catholicism. One of them, who had attempted to convert his father, was beaten to death by him.

The other two canonised were a priest from Spain who devoted his life to studying therapeutic plants in the 19th century, and an Italian priest who died in the 1700s after spending his life criss-crossing the southern end of his country.

Neither of those men are considered martyrs by the Catholic Church.

"The saints who were canonised today, and especially the many martyrs, point the way," Francis said Sunday.

"They did not say a fleeting 'yes' to love, they said 'yes' with their lives and to the very end," he added.

Francis has frequently spoken out against the persecution of Christians, especially those targeted in the Middle East.

The pope also announced he was calling a global assembly of bishops that would be devoted to the Amazon region, with an emphasis on indigenous people.

He said the aim was to find new ways to evangelise in that region, noting that indigenous people are "often forgotten" and face an uncertain future due to deforestion in the Amazon.

In August, Brazil stripped a vast nature reserve of its protected status in a move that could expand mining in the area.

The four million-hectare reserve is home to indigenous people but also rich in gold and manganese.