On Sunday the 17th May, 2,000 Palestinians gathered in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City to prey and celebrate their first saints of modern times, as the Pope was paying tribute to the two new saints who lived spiritual experiences in the worship and ‘eternal love’ of God and who were humble servants of their people. Marie Alphonsine Ghattas (1847-1927) of Jerusalem, and Mariam Bawardy (1843-1878) of Galilee, both of whom lived in Ottoman Palestine during the 19th century, were declared saints in a ceremony at the Vatican.
Although the event is a spiritual religious ceremony but it positively has a political national message. Such a development has great significance and is likely to have a considerable impact on a matter of advancing the peace process and consideration of conflict settlement by the direct bilateral negotiations. It could hopefully remove the main obstacle to accelerate the progress of peace in the region and indirectly help Palestinians in the establishment of an independent, sovereign and democratic “State of Palestine”.
The Vatican had previously welcomed the decision by the UN General Assembly in 2012 to recognise a “Palestinian State”, and has officially recognised the “State of Palestine” in a new treaty on the 15 of May 2015, that is significantly coinciding with the commemoration of the sixty seventh Anniversary of AL-Nakba. The Palestinian Authority considers the Vatican one of 136 countries to have recognized Palestine as a State, and such holy occasion making explicit its recognition of Palestinian statehood. This was confirmed by The Vatican's Foreign Minister, Monsignor Antoine Camilleri, who acknowledged the change in status, given that the treaty was initially inked with the PLO and is now being finalised with the "state of Palestine". The agreement, he said, “expresses hope for an end to Palestinian-Israeli tensions and supports the existence of two separate, independent nations living side by side in security and peace.”
Although the holy occasion has been interpreted by some parties as a positive intervention by the Vatican in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the canonization is significant on many levels: It is regarded as a strong message from the Holy See where his Holiness recognizes that Palestinian Christians are rooted in Jerusalem, they do exist in land of Palestine which is called Israel now (after the 1948 occupation), and that Palestinian Christians have a heritage of more than 2,000 years, and they actually lived in the time and the same land of Jesus Christ who was Palestinian.
This recognition confirms that Palestinians according to history under Ottoman rule were part of a diverse, productive society, who lives in peace, tolerance and harmony with other people including Muslims in the Palestininan holy land of serenity, contrary to the mainstream sidelining of Palestinians from the region’s history.
In1948, when Israel was created, Christians in Palestine made up around 18 percent of the population. Over the years it has been dwindling and now it is less than two percent, for thousands of them have been suffering under political situations and pushed to leave Palestine. This act is significant in a way that encourage Palestinian Christians to stay in their country of Palestine and puts Palestine back on the map, among not only the Christian world, but the whole world, and will also help people to understand that the land of Palestine was existed hundreds of years ago and was inhabited by Palestinian Arabs before the occupation of Israel.
The religious ceremony has also a significant national message; for the two nuns are Palestinian Arab Christians and therefore Arab Palestinians are proud that they have two saints from Palestine, the birthplace of Jesus Christ which could have a significant effect to inspire all Palestinians on spiritual transformation to overcome all surrounding problems and how to peacefully live in harmonious co-existence like they did hundred years before the Israeli occupation. It is also a message to the world that the Middle East is not just about media headlines on violence and terrorism, rather the Arabic speaking people have a rich history that consists of diverse communities in the Middle East, such as the Christian minority who have significantly contributed to building the Palestinian nation, to the world precious heritage and peacemaking.
This historical event also shows how the Pope religiously and politically cares for Palestine and Palestinian people because he knows the TRUTH. His action is indeed is a positive step towards a socio-political change to get involved in the peace process of justice and freedom, to end the Zionist occupation of seventy years. For in fact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict concerns the whole world and it should be resolved by finding satisfactory resolution that reshapes the reality and make the world peace of freedom and justice.