VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis proclaimed seven new saints on Sunday, including Argentina’s “gaucho priest” who served as an inspiration for the pontiff, and two people who died for their faith.
Portraits of the new saints hung high among the columns of Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, where the pontiff blessed seven relics of the saints at a solemn open-air ceremony attended by some 70,000 faithful.
Many among the crowds were Argentines, some clutching little statues of poncho-wearing Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero.
Born 1849 in the province of Cordoba, Brochero spent his days ministering to the poor and the sick, travelling the region on the back of a mule, and building church schools.
Francis has praised the 19th century Argentine as having had the “smell of his sheep” on him, a phrase he has used in the past to describe the best pastors, those who mingle with their flock and share their troubles.
Brochero cared for the sick during a cholera epidemic in 1867 and would go on to contract leprosy, reportedly after sharing with a sufferer a gourd of the herbal tea mate - a drink Francis often sips when offered to him by pilgrims in the crowds.
The pontiff said the saints were those who could help people in difficulty, for they too had suffered, but triumphed in their faith.
“The saints are men and women who enter fully into the mystery of prayer. Men and women who struggle with prayer. They struggle to the very end, with all their strength, and they triumph,” he said.
“May we cry out day and night to God, without losing heart,” he added.
The youngest of the new saints is Jose Sanchez del Rmo, a 14-year-old who was killed in 1928 in Mexico after refusing to renounce his faith during the “Cristero” struggle between Catholics and the anti-clerical Mexican government.
Salomone Leclercq also died defending his faith. Born in 1745 in France to a family of merchants, he entered the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools - known as the “De La Salle Brothers” - where he served as a teacher.
He was run through with a sword during the French Revolution after refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the new French government, and his murder, along with that of dozens of other religious figures, was seen as driven by a “hatred of the faith”.
France’s second new saint is the mystic Elizabeth of the Trinity, who died aged just 26 of Addison’s disease in 1906.
A gifted pianist, Elizabeth reportedly refused several offers of marriage to join the Barefoot Carmelites near her house and undertake a life of contemplation where she dedicated herself to prayer and spiritual writings.
She is joined by Italian Alfonso Maria Fusco, a priest from the southern city of Salerno, who was born to a farmer in 1839 and went on to found the “Congregation of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist”, known as Baptistine Sisters.
Fellow Italian Lodovico Pavoni from Brescia founded the religious congregation “Sons of Mary Immaculate” and taught the poor and downtrodden trades to help them put bread on the table and faith to help them enter heaven.
And Spain’s Bishop of Palencia Manuel Gonzalez Garcia, born in 1877, founded the “Congregation of the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth” as well as the “Disciples of Saint John” and the “Children of Reparation”.
He enlisted in the seminary of Seville at the tender age of 12, and it was there that he wrote: “If I would be born a thousand times; a thousand times I would be a priest”.