VATICAN CITY, May 21, 2000 (AP)--Pope John Paul II on Sunday gave the Catholic church 27 new Mexican saints, all but two of them killed under anti-clerical governments in the 1920s and 1930s.

Some 20,000 Mexicans were among a crowd of about 50,000 faithful who attended the two-hour long canonization ceremony in St. Peter's Square, baked by a strong sun.

The best known of the 25 martyrs is the Rev. Cristobal Magallanes who is believed to have pardoned his killers as he was shot by a firing squad in 1927.

Also made saint was a nun, Maria de Jesus Sacramentado, who died in 1959 at the age of 90. In 1886, she had joined a group of pious women who ran a small hospital for the poor and which later became known as the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Another new saint is Jose Maria de Yermo y Parres, a priest who died at age 52 in 1904. He founded schools, hospitals, nursing homes and orphanages.

Images of the new saints were hung on the facade on St. Peter's Basilica, and many Mexicans joyfully waved their country's flag or snapped photos during the ceremony.

Giving his homily in Spanish, John Paul paid tribute to the martyrs--22 priests and three laymen who aided clergymen. Recalling ``the harsh trials that the church underwent in Mexico in those convulsive years, '' the pope said ``today Mexican Christians, aided by the testimony of these witnesses of the faith, can live in peace and harmony, bringing to society the richness of those evangelical values.''

Before Sunday's ceremony, Mexico had only one national saint, San Felipe de Jesus, a monk who was crucified in Japan when his ship stopped there in a storm and who was canonized in 1862.

With the latest canonization, John Paul has given the church 323 saints since becoming pope in 1978.

His record-setting numbers of canonizations and 989 beatifications--the last formal step before sainthood--reflects his determination to give Catholics new role models as their faith is tested by what he sees as distractions of consumerism in developed countries and the competition of quickly rising evangelical sects in less developed parts of the world, including Latin America.

A 1992 reform of Mexico's 1917 anti-clerical constitution removed the most severe restrictions on religious activity, and the Catholic church in Mexico has been trying to reclaim a more public role. State crackdowns on religion in the 1920s set off several years of a Catholic uprising known as the Cristera War.

Copyright 2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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