VATICAN CITY, Feb. 28 (AP) -- Admirers of a sharpshooting seminarian who became a saint are lobbying the Vatican to make their man the patron saint of handgun owners.

In a ceremony Tuesday, John Michael Snyder, a gun fancier and ex-Jesuit seminarian who once worked for the National Rifle Association, awarded medals to men who, like himself, think St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother deserves such special Vatican recognition. The event was held at a hotel just down the street from St. Peter's Basilica.

Born Francis Possenti in 1838 in Assisi, the hometown of another, more famous, holy man, the saint is also known as Gabriel Possenti. Along with another saint known for valor, Joan of Arc, he is one of three saints made during the early 20th century papacy of Benedict XV.

``It is obvious that St. Gabriel Possenti is very much a saint for the 21st century,'' Snyder said of the man whose sharpshooting skills scared away marauders from the Italian village of Isola del Gran Sasso one day in 1860.

According to accounts, Possenti confronted some renegade soldiers who were about to rape a village woman. At that moment, a lizard darted by, and Possenti shot it dead in a display of marksmanship that impressed the bad guys so much they fled.

Speaking on the saint's feast day, Snyder said making Possenti the patron of handgun owners would show that the Vatican is ``courageous enough to stick its neck out for the right of individuals to defend themselves against evil and tyranny.''

The Vatican has approved of many saints as patrons of various occupations or groups, from maids to chefs, from hunters to funeral directors. But Snyder, who heads the Arlington, Virginia-based St. Gabriel Possenti Society, Inc., might not have a quick answer to his prayers.

The Vatican press office on Monday said it has noted in the past that naming a patron for gun lobbyists isn't opportune.

Snyder, who said the Vatican told him a few years ago that he needed to enlist bishops around the world for his cause, said he would not be discouraged.

``I intend to keep bringing this to the Vatican's attention till they finally get the message,'' Snyder said at the ceremony. ``Things in the Catholic church often take a very, very long time.''

The medals he handed out bear an image of the saint, described as the ``guardian saint of marksmen,'' flanked by a handgun and a lizard.

About 20 people attended the medal ceremony. Among those honored were a great-grandnephew of the saint, Francesco Possenti, and Paolo Tagini, author of an article in the Italian magazine Armi (Arms) lamenting how few Italians know of the saint's heroism.

The magazine also carried a ``prayer of the sharpshooter'' asking Possenti to ``bless our arms so that they may serve to defend and never ever to offend.''

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