Pope Francis canonizes Mexican and Colombian among his first saints

Pontiff calls on two countries to work toward peace

Pope Francis kisses a child at the end of the Canonization Mass in Vatican City on Sunday.
Pope Francis kisses a child at the end of the Canonization Mass in Vatican City on Sunday.CLAUDIO PERI (EFE)

Mexican nun Guadalupe García Zavala (1878-1963), Colombian Laura Montoya y Upegui (1874-1949) and 800 Italian martyrs killed in 1480 in Otranto have become the first saints to be canonized by Pope Francis I.

During the ceremony on Sunday, which had been previously announced by Pope Benedict XVI before he surprised the world by resigning, the new pontiff called for an end to drug violence in Mexico and asked “the beloved sons of Colombia to continue to work toward peace and equal justice” for their country.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos headed his country’s delegation to the Vatican for the ceremony. The Mexican delegation was headed by Roberto Herrera, the assistant secretary general for religious affairs.

Mother Luptia was born in Zapopan in 1878 and was co-founder of the Servants of Saint Mary Margaret of the Poor. She was persecuted during the Cristero War (1926-1929) but nevertheless helped the wounded on both sides of the armed conflict, which pitted Catholic religious leaders against anti-Church forces, led by the atheist Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles.

“Mother Luptia would get on her knees on the hospital floor as she tried to heal and clean the wounds of the injured and homeless,” recalled the pope.

She died in Guadalajara, Mexico at age 85. Today, the members of her order are spread out across the United States, Peru, Greece and Italy.

For her part, Laura Montoya was born in Jericó (Antioquia department) and was the founder of the Order of the Missionary Sisters of Immaculate Mary and Saint Catherine of Siena. She was a schoolteacher, writer and mystic, and a staunch defender of indigenous rights. According to the Vatican, Montoya performed a miracle when she cured an Antioquia physician, Carlos Restrepo, who was suffering from an incurable disease. Restrepo was present at Sunday's ceremony.

"Santa Laura Montoya is the first saint to be born in the beautiful nation of Colombia and showed us how to be generous to God,” the pope said.

Francis also referred to the 800 Italian martyrs who died during the Ottoman invasion in Otranto when they were decapitated for refusing to renounce their Catholic faith. “Where did they find the strength to remain faithful?” he asked.

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