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Pope canonises first Guatemalan saint

Pope John Paul II has canonised Guatemala's first saint in a ceremony attended by hundreds of thousands of Catholics from across Central America.

At the end of the ceremony, many of those who had gathered since the early hours for the mass burst into applause, waving national flags and singing.

The Pope had earlier been greeted by jubilant crowds as he arrived at the race- course in Guatemala City.

About half a million people attended the service, during which the Pope canonised 17th century missionary, Brother Pedro de San Jose de Betancur.

The Pope's visit to Guatemala is seen as having huge significance for the Catholic Church, which is putting pressure on the authorities to investigate crimes against humanity committed during the civil war.

The pope's last visit to Guatemala in 1996 came shortly before the end of the country's 36-year civil war, and many believe the Pope played a key role in stopping that conflict.

Most of Guatemala City came to a standstill for the Pope's arrival - shops were shut, streets were closed to traffic and the international airport was to be shut down for his stay.

Hundreds of faithful vied for space to place sand-and-flower carpets along Reforma, Guatemala City's main street.

The Pope said he hoped that the canonisation of Pedro de San Jose Betancur would be "a true moment of grace and renewal for Guatemala".

Brother Pedro, a 17th century Spanish missionary, set up his own order of priests and nuns to help the poor.


31 Jul 2002