Although he has only been pope for two months, Pope Francis
has now canonized more saints than any pope in history.
This interesting milestone was reached yesterday, when the
Holy Father canonized 800 Italian martyrs killed in a 15th-century attack of
the town of Otranto by Ottoman invaders. The men were murdered when they
refused to reject Christ and convert to Islam. Dr. Donald Prudlo, associate professor of medieval history at
Jacksonville State University in Alabama, briefly retold the new saints’
story in an
interview with Vatican Radio:
II was one of the most powerful and successful emperors in Ottoman Turkish
history. He had taken the impregnable city of Constantinople in 1453, and had
pacified the Balkan regions. By the 1470s Mehmed 'The Conqueror' was preparing
a death blow to Europe. His fleet sailed the Mediterranean without challenge.
Having taken 'New Rome' he set his sights on 'Old Rome.' In order to test the
resolve of Christian Europe he sent an exploratory raiding party in 1480. Its
target was the small maritime town of Otranto in far south Italy. During this
expedition thousands of people were massacred, in what was really an attempt to
instill terror into the inhabitants of the peninsula. After the city fell, its
civil and religious leaders were either beheaded or sawn into pieces. Eight
hundred men of the town were offered the choice between conversion to Islam or
death. Led by the tailor Antonio Primaldi, acting as spokesman for the group,
they were beheaded, one by one, on a hill outside town while their families
The significance of their sacrifice was clear. Antonio and
his townsmen had, in reality, saved Europe their bravery gave Christendom
time both to regroup, and to realize the gravity of the threat. Mehmed II died
the next year, at the age of only 49, frustrating Ottoman plans for expansion.
Relics of the
Martyrs of Otranto can be viewed in the city's cathedral (pictured above). A more detailed telling of the martyrs’ story can be read here.
homily at the Mass of canonization
yesterdaythe first of his pontificatePope Francis asked, “Where did they find the strength
to remain faithful?”
Precisely from the faith, which makes us see beyond the
limits of our human sight, beyond this earthly life … God will never leave us
without strength and serenity. While we venerate the Martyrs of Otranto, let us
ask God to sustain the many Christians who, precisely at this time, now, and in
many parts of the world, are still suffering violence, that He give them the
valor to be faithful and to respond to evil with good.
In addition to the 800 martyrs, Pope Francis also canonized two Latin
American women yesterday. Mother Laura
(1874-1949) is the first Colombian to be canonized a saint,
and Maria Guadalupe
is the second Mexican woman to be so honored.