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Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 11:06 GMT 12:06 UK
Pope canonises Chinese martyrs
Chinese catholics
China's official Catholic Church is under strict controls
By David Willey in Rome

Pope John Paul has canonised 87 Chinese Catholic martyrs and 33 European missionaries who died in China defending their Christian faith.

China has protested at what it calls a distortion of history and a new humiliation of the Chinese people.

Against chants of "alleluia" in Chinese, China's new saints were proclaimed by the Pope at a solemn ceremony in St Peter's Square.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope has created more saints than his predecessors
It took place against a background of deteriorating relations between the Holy See and the government in Beijing.

Ten Catholic bishops from Taiwan and one from Hong Kong attended the ceremony, but none was permitted to travel to Rome from mainland China.

The Vatican believes that in creating new saints from countries like China, which until now have never had a native-born saint, Catholics around the world have been given a boost in their faith.

But China sees it differently. A leading bishop of the officially-sponsored patriotic Catholic Church in China, which is not recognised by the Vatican, said in Beijing that the canonisations were an insult and an unacceptable public humiliation.

The Chinese accuse the Catholic Church of glorifying the colonial past.

The opium wars and the boxer rising, in which most of the new Chinese martyrs died, are seen in China as wars of national resistance against foreign colonialists.

'Honouring Chinese people'

Pope John Paul said this was not the moment to discuss the historical record and that by creating new Chinese saints, the Catholic Church was simply honouring the people of China.

Among other new saints proclaimed by the Pope were an American, who was an early civil rights activist, the first-ever saint from the Basque country in Spain and an African woman from the Sudan, who was sold as a slave to an Italian trader in the 19th Century, who set her free and then sent her to Italy, where she became a nun.

A group of Sudanese dancers performed in front of the Pope - yet another sign that the Vatican wants to emphasise that today's Catholic Church is indeed a multi-ethnic church.

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China riled by Vatican martyrs plan
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20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
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