|Vatican||POPE BEATIFIES 44 MARTYRS|
Pope John Paul II on Sunday beatified 44 martyrs, honoring them as courageous models for today's Catholics, often struggling with sagging faith.
Among those declared blessed during the ceremony in St. Peter's Square was Vietnam's first martyr, Andre de Phu Yen. He baptized at 15 and was beheaded three years later in 1644 when he refused to renounce Christianity.
"May all the disciples of Christ find in him the strength and support in trial," John Paul said, trying to encourage the present-day flock in Vietnam, a predominantly Buddhist nation which has the largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia outside of the Philippines.
The Vatican has been at odds at times with Vietnamese authorities over Hanoi's insistence on having final say over the naming of bishops. The Vatican is trying to improve relations with the communist-led country with an eye on a possible papal visit.
The Holy Father praised Maria Stella Adela Mardosewicz and 10 fellow nuns who were summoned by the Gestapo in 1943 and shot to death in woods outside the town of Nowogrodek.
The women had offered up their lives in exchange for sparing dozens of families, who, instead, were either deported to work camps in Germany or released immediately. All the families survived World War II.