Pope John Paul II named six new saints Sunday, including a woman who became a symbol for abortion opponents because she refused to end her pregnancy despite warnings that it could kill her.
The Vatican has long championed the case of Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian pediatrician who died in 1962 at the age of 39 — a week after giving birth to her fourth child. Doctors had told her it was dangerous to proceed with the pregnancy because she had a tumor in her uterus, but she insisted on carrying the baby to term.
In proclaiming her a saint, John Paul praised her “extreme sacrifice” and her simple but profound message.
“May our era rediscover, by the example of Gianna Beretta Molla, the pure, chaste and fertile beauty of conjugal love, lived as a response to the divine calling,” he said.
John Paul also praised the examples of the five other people canonized Sunday, including two Italian priests and a Spanish monk who founded religious orders, a Lebanese Maronite priest and a wealthy Italian widow who opened her homes to abandoned children.
Pope appears well
John Paul, who turns 84 on Tuesday, read his entire homily and appeared in good form as he declared the saints to a crowd of thousands of flag-waving pilgrims gathered under a brilliant sun in St. Peter’s Square.
Among the well-wishers on hand for the ceremony was Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, himself a Maronite Catholic who was in Rome to honor Naamatallah Kassab Hardini, a Maronite who lived from 1808 to 1858 and is credited with healing the blind and lame.
Hardini is the third Maronite to attain sainthood, and his elevation was certain to boost the morale of the estimated 900,000 Maronites in Lebanon, the largest of the country’s Christian sects.
Also canonized Sunday were Luigi Orione, a popular Italian priest and founder of the Little Work of Divine Providence and of the Congregation of the Little Sisters, Missionaries of Charity; Hannibal Maria di Francia, founder of the Congregation of the Rogationist Fathers of the Heart of Jesus and of the Religious Daughters of Divine Zeal; Josep Manyanet y Vives, the Spanish-born founder of the Congregation of the Sons of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph and the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth; and Paola Elisabetta Cerioli, a wealthy Italian widow who, after all four of her children and her husband died, founded the Institute of Religious of the Holy Family.
Record number of new saints
The pope has made giving Catholics new role models one of the hallmarks of his papacy. With Sunday’s ceremony, he has proclaimed 482 saints in his 25-year pontificate, more than all his predecessors in the past 500 years combined.
In approving the six new saints, John Paul confirmed miracles were attributed to their intercession.
In the case of Beretta Molla, the Vatican says the first miracle needed for her to be beatified concerned a sickly Brazilian woman who recovered in 1977 after her fourth pregnancy. The Vatican says a second miracle occurred in 2000 when a healthy child was born to a young Brazilian woman who had lost her amniotic fluid.
Beretta Molla has been applauded as a courageous symbol for many in the church who back the Vatican’s ban on abortion.