Pope Returns to St. Peter’s After Operation, Beatifies 21 People
VATICAN CITY (AP) _ Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass before 50,000 of the faithful and beatified 17 Irish martyrs Sunday in his first appearance in St. Peter’s Square since colon surgery in July.
The 72-year-old pontiff looked slightly bowed, and his voice weakened on occasion, but he seemed reasonably strong and in good health during the two- hour service.
In his homily honoring the Irish clerics and lay people, the pope referred to the strife involving Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.
″God sustained them in their trials,″ he said of the martyrs, who died during England’s attempts in the 16th and 17th centuries to impose the Anglican Church on Ireland.
″May He also sustain those who work for reconciliation and peace in Ireland today,″ said the pontiff.
Also beatified were two Spanish nuns and a priest - Rafael Arnaiz Baron, died 1939; Nazaria Ignacia March, died 1943; Maria Josefa Sancho de Guerra, died 1912 - and a French nun, Leonie Aviat, who died in 1914.
Beatification is the final step before sainthood.
Since surgery on July 15 to remove a benign bowel tumor, John Paul has slowly been returning to public life. He made a few appearances while on vacation in the Dolomite mountains in August and had his first general audience in his vacation home of Castel Gandolfo on Sept. 9.
Applause rose up as the pope, wearing gold vestments, walked slowly toward the altar on the steps of St. Peter’s to begin the Mass.
The square was filled with the usual black and white clothing of priests and nuns, and the skies were gray. But there also were smatterings of green blouses and shirts, and many people waved green handkerchiefs in honor of the Irish martyrs.
Clare Caffery of Dublin, on vacation with her husband, Ted, said they made a detour to St. Peter’s when they heard about the ceremony.
″I think of what our forefathers did for the faith, how they struggled. We want to honor them,″ she said. ″We’re still struggling.″
The pope’s comments were the second this week about Ireland. On Friday, he expressed support for Irish laws that ban citizens from receiving information on abortion.
The church said the 17 Irish martyrs were chosen from a list of 260 who had died for Roman Catholicism. Most died in jail or were executed because they refused to swear to the English monarch as head of the church. Their deaths occurred between 1579 and 1654.
Leading the list were Dermot O’Hurley, archbishop of Cashel, and Margaret Ball of Dublin.
O’Hurley was tortured by having his feet placed in oil-filled metal boots that were roasted over a fire, in the belief he knew something about a papal plot, according to the Roman Catholic Church account. He then was hanged because he refused to swear the oath.
Margaret Ball sheltered persecuted priests in her home, and with the help of her son was imprisoned in the dungeon of Dublin Castle. She died there.