Mexican Roman Catholics Celebrate 27 New Saints

May 20, 2000, MEXICO CITY (AP) - For more than a century, Mexico has made do with just one national saint. But that's about to change: On Sunday, Pope John Paul II canonized 27 more for the world's second-largest Roman Catholic country after Brazil.

``It is very important for national pride,'' said historian Jean Meyer, who has specialized in religion in Mexico. ``It's an international boost that strokes the Mexican collective ego, rather like winning the soccer World Cup.''

The new saints, like many sporting idols, have their controversial sides. All but two died during repression of religious fervor by vehemently anti-clerical governments in the 1920s and 30s. The state-church conflict reached its height when an armed religious uprising sparked the 1926-29 Cristero War.

The best known of the 25 martyrs is Father Cristobal Magallanes, who reputedly pardoned his killers as he died by firing squad May 25, 1927. The most famous priest from that era, Father Miguel Pro, is not on the list, apparently still too controversial a figure due to his alleged part in the violence.

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``The new saints didn't participate in the war itself, but they provided spiritual guidance for the people, defending the faith and the presence of Christ the King in Mexico,'' said the Rev. Rolando Rivera, a priest at the Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City. ``Now history, and the church itself, are giving them their just recognition.''

The saint-making process has taken a collective form, with the 25 Cristero martyrs sharing the credit for miraculously curing a woman of cysts in her breasts in 1993. Carmen Pullido fully recovered after invoking all the martyrs while wearing a hollow silver cross containing relics of Magallanes, the Rev. Adalberto Gonzalez said in a telephone interview from Pullido's diocese in the eastern state of Guadalajara.

Also being canonized are the founders of two religious organizations: Maria de Jesus Sacramentado Venegas of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart and Jose Yermo y Parres of the Congregation of the Servants of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Poor.

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Jo Tuckman
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