Pope Francis canonizes hundreds of slain Italians

Proclaiming the first saints of his pontificate, Pope Francis on Sunday canonized 813 Italians who were slain by Turkish soldiers in a 15th-century siege.

When residents of a small port town called Otranto refused to surrender to the Ottoman army in 1480, the soldiers were ordered to massacre all men over the age of 15. According to the Catholic Herald, many were ordered to convert to Islam or die, but a tailor named Antonio Primaldo spoke on the prisoners’ behalf: “We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of God, and for Jesus Christ we are ready to die,” he said, according to Pope John Paul II.

The “Martyrs of Otranto” were canonized in a packed St. Peter’s Square as decided by Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, in a decree read at the ceremony in February during which the former pontiff announced his retirement, the Associated Press reports.

Francis, the first South American pope, also gave Colombia its first saint: Mother Laura Montoya, a nun who worked as a teacher and spiritual guide to indigenous people in the 20th century, the AP reports.

Also, the pope canonized Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala, a Mexican nurse who helped Catholics avoid persecution during a government crackdown of the faith in the 1920s, the AP reports.

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