VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis named two Palestinian women as saints on Sunday, in a ceremony in Saint Peter's Square just days after the Vatican formalized its de facto recognition of the State of Palestine.
The canonization of Sister Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghattas, founder of the Sisters of the Most Holy Rosary of Jerusalem, and Maryam Baouardy, who founded a Carmelite convent in Bethlehem, was not directly connected with the Vatican's Wednesday announcement of a new accord with the State of Palestine.
But the ceremony, attended by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and a delegation of senior clergy including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, highlighted Pope Francis' drive to help embattled Christian communities in the Middle East.
Saint Peter's Square was decked with portraits of the Palestinians and two other newly sanctified nuns - the French Jeanne-Emilie de Villeneuve and Italian Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception Brando.
In a statement as he departed for the Vatican last week, Twal said Ghattas and Baouardy, who entered religious orders as teenagers in the late 1800s and died in 1927 and 1878 respectively, were an example for Christians, Muslims and Jews.
"It is a sign of our modern time which suggests that we can talk about the three religions without any discrimination," the patriarch's statement said.
The canonizations of the two Palestinians were the first of their kind "since the days of the apostles," Twal said.
Abbas, whom the pope called "an angel of peace" when the two met on Saturday, said in a statement the example of the two newly canonized saints "affirms our determination to build a sovereign, independent and free Palestine based on the principles of equal citizenship".
He called on Palestinian Christians not to emigrate "but to stay with us and enjoy the rights of full and equal citizenship, and bear with us the difficulties of life until we achieve liberty, sovereignty and human dignity."
Ghattas is credited with setting up the first local Arab religious congregation in her hometown, Jerusalem. Emile Munir Elias, who the Vatican said was healed through her intercession, attended the canonization with his mother.
Sainthood is usually confirmed by the Catholic Church when two miracles - often the inexplicable healing of a sick person - are attributed to the intercession of a holy person who has died.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Isla Binnie; Editing by Jon Boyle)