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Pope creates 800 Italian saints

Pope Francis proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate in a ceremony Sunday at the Vatican.

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Jorge Mario Bergoglio attends his first private Mass as Pope Francis in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on March 14, 2013 in Rome, Italy. (L'Osservatore Romano/Getty Images)

Pope Francis canonized 800 Italian martyrs who refused to convert to Islam in a ceremony watched by 700,000 people at the Vatican Sunday.

The men were beheaded in 1480 by Ottoman soldiers, Reuters reported.

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In making the announcement, Pope Francis said many Christians were still being persecuted for their faith, but the Vatican stressed it should not be interpreted as anti-Islamic.

"While we venerate the Otranto Martyrs, we ask God to sustain the many Christians who, today, in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence and give them the courage to be faithful and to respond to evil with good," Francis told the crowd.

Among those canonized on Sunday was Laura Montoya from Colombia, who dedicated her life to helping indigenous people, CNN reported.

Pope Francis has only been in office two months, yet has proclaimed more saints than any of his predecessors, the BBC reported.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/130512/pope-creates-800-italian-saints