POPE Benedict XVI canonised Australia’s first saint, Mary MacKillop, at a Mass in Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican yesterday in front of tens of thousands of cheering pilgrims.
“She dedicated herself as a young woman to the education of the poor in the difficult and demanding terrain of rural Australia,” Benedict said at the ceremony, attended by Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.
“For many years countless young people throughout Australia have been blessed with teachers who were inspired by the courageous and saintly example of zeal, perseverance and prayer of Mother Mary MacKillop.”
Pronouncing a solemn prayer in Latin, the Pope also canonised Canada’s Brother Andre and four others from Italy, Poland and Spain and declared that “throughout the Church they be honoured devoutly among all the saints”.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski were among the worshippers and six giant images of the new saints hung from the facade of Saint Peter’s basilica.
There were some 6,000 Australians and 5,000 Canadians, Vatican authorities said. Many wore Australian bush hats and waved Australian and Canadian flags.
As many as 80,000 people crowded into the square for the Mass.
“It’s just wonderful. We’ve always believed Mary was a saint,” said Moya Campbell, one of 800 nuns in the crowd from the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the order that MacKillop helped found.
“This is awesome,” said Emilia Mourani, 36, who flew in from Sydney.
“I’ve prayed to her and she’s helped me with my problems. That’s why I’m here, I wanted to thank her,” she said, visibly moved by the moment.
Rudd earlier paid tribute to MacKillop as “an extraordinary Australian.”
There were nationwide celebrations in Australia for MacKillop (1842-1909) and her canonisation was preceded by a series of events in Rome including an open-air Aboriginal dance show at the Vatican museum with didgeridoo music.
MacKillop was an inspirational nun and teacher who fell out with Australian church authorities and was briefly excommunicated in 1871 in a fight over control of her order and after her denunciation of a paedophile priest.
“St Mary’s canonisation highlights the central role Christian faith has played in Australian history,” Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, wrote in Australia’s Sunday Telegraph.
“Mary, Saint Mary of the Cross, was a fine Australian and an outstanding Catholic,” Pell said, referring also to the “unprincipled opposition from bishops, clergy and even her own sisters” that she encountered.
A part-religious, part-nationalist, part-media frenzy has seized Australia for the canonisation, with “MacKillop” the musical playing to sold-out shows and a nightly projection of her image on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
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