Pope Francis has canonised three sisters who founded religious congregations, and a fourth – a Discalced Carmelite sister who founded a monastery in Nazareth – in a moving Mass attended by many thousands from around the world in St Peter's Square on 17 May.
As two of the new saints came from Jerusalem and Nazareth, in Ottoman-empire Palestine, the canonisations were seen as evidence of the Holy Father's deep concern for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East.
The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, attended the ceremony, together with many bishops, priests, nuns and lay people from the Middle East, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal.
In a homily given at the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the day before the canonisations, Patriarch Twal spoke of the significance of the canonisations for the people of Palestine.
He said, "Canonisation of these two [Palestinian] nuns is at the same time a blessing, a challenge and a hope for us all. A blessing that tells us that God guides the path of the Christian community in our country, making it abundant and vivid through sainthood.
"It is a challenge for us, for it urges us to rise up to the level of their sainthood through the grace of God.
"It is also a hope in these hard moments and circumstances which overwhelm our country in these days, for our peoples and our faithful, reminding us that the last word in our life and our history belongs to God."
Each of the sisters had a distinct path to sainthood. These short biographies are taken from the official booklet distributed at the canonisation Mass in St Peters Square. They show the saintly character of these sisters, and the way in which their lives were touched directly by Jesus and his blessed Mother.
St Marie Alphonsine Danil Ghattas was born in Jerusalem on 4 October 1843 into a Christian family which provided her with a sound religious formation. She was baptised on 19 November with the name of Soultaneh Marie.
After discerning the call to the consecrated life, she entered into the Institute of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition in 1858, and on 30 June 1860, she received the habit, taking the religious name of Sister Marie Alphonsine. In 1863 she made her profession.
On 6 January 1874, in Bethlehem, the Virgin Mary appeared to her for the first time. Exactly one year later, there was a second apparition, in which Our Lady asked her to start a new religious family that was to be known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary. In July 1880, several young "Daughters of Mary", under the guidance of Father Tannous, began to live a common life.
According to the wishes of Our Lady, the new community was called the Institute of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary.
In 1880, the Holy Father dispensed Sister Marie Alphonsine from her vow of obedience in the Sisters of Saint Joseph and subsequently she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary.
On 6 October, she received the religious habit, keeping her religious name Marie Alphonsine. She made her religious profession on 7 March 1885. On 2 November 1887, the Rule of the Sisters of the Holy Rosary was approved, and received diocesan approval two years later.
Already a Religious, Sister Marie Alphonsine was admitted into the Third Order Dominicans in the Dominican Convent in Jerusalem on 4 October 1890, the Vigil of the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. On 25 March 1927 she died and in November 2009, she was beatified in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.
The Sisters of the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary presently exercise their apostolate in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Kuwait, and some Emirates of the Persian Gulf (Abu Dhabi, Shariqah), as well as in Rome.
St Mary of Jesus Crucified Baouardy was born into a Greek-Catholic family living near Nazareth on 5 July 1846. She was given the name Mariam at her baptism. Orphaned at two years of age, she was adopted by her uncle who, in 1854, moved to Alexandria in Egypt.
Unknown to her, she was secretly engaged to be married at twelve years of age; to cancel the engagement she cut off her hair, provoking the wrath of her aunt and uncle who confined her to household servitude.
Knowing the anguish that her aunt and uncle inflicted upon her, a former domestic servant invited her to renounce her faith. Mary immediately responded: "I am a daughter of the Roman, Catholic Apostolic Church". The response was a blow to the throat with a scimitar. Then, wrapped up in a sheet, she was abandoned and left for dead in the street. She woke up in a grotto, being cared for by a religious woman dressed in blue – Mariam said it was the Virgin – who prophesied out her future. After recovering from her injuries, for thirteen years she worked as a domestic servant in Alexandria, Jerusalem and Beirut.
In 1862, she moved with the Naggiar family to Marseilles, where she discerned a vocation to the consecrated life. In 1865 she entered the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Apparition.
The Congregation, however, did not let her make her religious profession, as they were frightened by the extraordinary phenomena surrounding Mariam, which they thought was an illness: ecstasies, visions, and, on 29 March 1867, the stigmata.
On 14 June 1867 she entered the Carmelite Convent of Pau, where on 27 July she received the habit and took the name Mary of Jesus Crucified.
In 1870 she left for Mangalore to found a monastery. Two year later, however, she returned to Pau owing to misunderstandings which constituted her great purification.
In the same year, Sister Mary revealed to her Superiors that the Lord desired a Carmel in Bethlehem. She arrived there on 11 September 1875, assisted by the generosity of Bertha Dartigaux.
Acting as architect and director of work, she fell on 22 August 1878, and fractured her arm, which became gangrenous. She died a holy death on 26 August. Saint John Paul II beatified her on 13 November 1983.
St Jeanne Émilie de Villeneuve was born in Toulouse on 9 March 1811, the third daughter of Count Jean Baptiste M. Louis de Villeneuve and Jeanne Gabrielle Rosalie d'Avessens, and baptised two days later on 11 March 1811.
She grew up in an environment of profound faith. From her earliest years, Jeanne Émilie was instilled with a strong sense of duty and responsibility, as well as openness to the needs of others.
The formation she received from her mother, the work of her father – who managed an agricultural estate – and the family's proximity to the town of Castres, in southern France, where industrialisation was beginning to cause suffering and hardships to families, contributed to Jeanne opening her heart to her future mission: helping those who lived in material and spiritual poverty.
In 1836, she realised her deep desire to be consecrated completely to God and to her fellow man. At the beginning, her mission was in her town. Professing her religious vows, she indicated a preference for dedicating herself completely to the salvation of the poorest souls.
Jeanne Émilie placed her new Congregation under the protection of Mary Immaculate. The plan to establish the Congregation in mission territories became a reality in December 1847.
Her fundamental aspiration, to work for the salvation of the poorest and most needy, was formalised on 22 July 1846, when she opened the first Shelter in Castres. During the General Chapter on 6 September 1853, St Jeanne Émilie asked for and, not without difficulty, was granted her wish to be replaced as Superior General.
At the end of August 1854, the cholera epidemic which had been spreading throughout France appeared for the first time in Castres. Sister Jeanne Émilie confronted it with her usual weapons: prayer and charity. On 27 September she felt the first symptoms of the sickness that would claim her life on 2 October. She was the last victim to of the cholera outbreak in the town.
She was beatified in Castres on 5 July 2009.
St Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception (née Adelaide Brando) was born in Naples on 1 May 1856, the daughter of Giovanni Giuseppe Brando and Concetta Marrazzo, and was baptised the same day.
She received first Holy Communion on 8 December 1864, and on Christmas Day in 1868, at just twelve years of age, she made a vow of perpetual virginity. Her wish was to be a "victim" consecrated entirely to the Lord, as well as a reparatrix.
She felt called to the consecrated life and expressed her desire to enter the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament (Sacramentine Nuns) in Naples. In 1856, she received the religious habit and took the name Sister Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception.
Sister Maria Cristina saw in the Eucharistic Jesus the Victim perennially sacrificed to his Father in reparation and expiation.
She felt her place was to be near the tabernacle to offer herself, with Jesus in the Host, victim of reparation and a perennial expiation.
Of great help and comfort to her were Saint Ludovico da Casoria and the Servant of God Michelangelo Longo da Marigliano. On 22 November 1884, at the invitation of the Provost of Casoria, Canon Domenico Maglione, Sister Maria Cristina moved to the Maglione property in Casoria with her sisters, and then to the present mother house on Via G. D'Anna, where she built a magnificent shrine to the Blessed Sacrament in the neo-gothic style. On 16 August 1903, the Religious Institute took the official name Sisters Expiatory Victims of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Congregation which she founded is dedicated to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and promotion of divine worship; the education of poor girls and boys; catechesis and teaching; nurseries and child care, and various other works of charity.
Sister Maria Cristina died on the morning of 20 January 1906 having received the Sacraments. She was beatified by Saint John Paul II on 27 April 2003.