- (Photo: REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini)
More than 800 Catholics were canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday at a mass held in St. Peter's Square.
The new saints, made up mostly of Italian martyrs who were killed during the 15th century for not converting to Islam, were the first men and women elected to sainthood under Pope Francis' papacy.
"Let us look on the new saints in the light of the word of God proclaimed, a word that invited us to be faithful to Christ, even unto martyrdom; a word that recalled to us the urgency and the beauty of bringing Christ and his Gospel to everyone; a word that spoke to us about the witness of charity, without which even martyrdom and mission lose their Christian savour," said Pope Francis.
The martyrs were killed by the expanding Ottoman empire in Otranto, Italy in 1480, and beheaded for not denouncing their Christian faith, reports CNN.
Otranto was one of the cities that stood in the way of Sultan Mohammed II as he set out to conquer Rome, reports NBC.
"As we venerate the martyrs of Otranto," the Pope said to Vatican radio, "let us ask God to sustain those many Christians who, in these times and in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence, and give them the courage and fidelity to respond to evil with good."
The people of Otranto are historically thought to have fought back the Ottoman army for a week before succumbing to their numbers.
"The significance of their sacrifice was clear," Pope Francis continued. "(The) townsmen had in reality saved Europe. Their bravery gave Christendom time both to regroup, and to realize the gravity of the threat."
In addition to the martyrs, Pope Francis canonized two Latin American nuns, Laura Montoya of Colombia and Maria Guadalupe Garcia Zavala of Mexico.
Montoya worked with the indigenous people of Colombia until 1949 when she died, and Garcia, known as Mother Lupita, worked with the impoverished of Mexico when religion was looked down upon by the Mexican government in the 1920s, according to CNN.
"This is what it means to touch the flesh of Christ," Francis said during his mass.
The Pope, well aware of Christian persecution around the world, asked God to keep those who live under the threat of persecution.
"We ask God to sustain the many Christians who, today, in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence," he said.