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The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI created India’s first woman saint Sunday and denounced anti-Christian violence in that country and in Iraq.

The canonization of Sister Alphonsa of the Immaculate Conception is seen as a morale boost to minority Christians who have been attacked by Hindu mobs in eastern and southern India. Catholic bishops in India have said at least 40 Christians have been killed.

After the ceremony in St. Peter’s Square to canonize Alphonsa and three others, Benedict told Indian pilgrims among the crowd of tens of thousands that Alphonsa’s “heroic virtues of patience, fortitude and perseverance in the midst of deep suffering remind us that God always provides the strength we need to overcome every trial.”

“As the Christian faithful of India give thanks to God for their first native daughter to be presented for public veneration, I wish to assure them of my prayers during this difficult time,” he said in English.

“I urge the perpetrators of violence to renounce these acts and join with their brothers and sisters to work together in building a civilization of love,” Benedict said.

Christians have also been suffering violence in Iraq, with many fleeing the country in the past few years after attacks on priests, congregations and churches.

“I invite prayers for reconciliation and peace in situations which provoke alarm and great suffering,” Benedict said.

Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, had beatified Alphonsa during a pilgrimage to India in 1986. Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood, the church’s highest honor for its faithful. Alphonsa, a nun from southern India, was 35 when she died in 1946.

An Indian man, Gonsalo Garcia, became a saint in 1862.

The others canonized Sunday by Benedict were: Gaetano Errico, a Neapolitan priest who founded a missionary order in the 19th century; Sister Maria Bernarda, born Verena Bütler in Switzerland in 1848, who worked as a nun in Ecuador and Colombia; and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran, a 19th-century laywoman from Ecuador who helped the sick and the poor.

“May their examples give us encouragement, their teachings give us direction and comfort,” Benedict said in his homily.

Attending the ceremony was a 10-year-old Indian boy whose club foot was, in the judgment of Vatican officials, miraculously healed after prayers to Alphonsa. A miracle after beatification is required for sainthood.

Many people associate Mother Teresa, the nun and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, with India. The ethnic Albanian came to India as a young woman to work with the country’s most desperately poor. She died in 1997 and John Paul beatified her in 2003.

Source: International Herald Tribune