Catholic Philippines celebrates new saint

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Church bells pealed across the Catholic Philippines Sunday as millions attended special masses to celebrate the naming of the country's second saint, a young missionary killed over 340 years ago.

President Benigno Aquino declared Sunday a "national day of celebration" in Asia's bastion of Catholicism and sent his vice president, Jejomar Binay, to lead a big congregation to the rites in the Vatican.

In the capital Manila people from all walks of life congregated at the Sto. Nino de Tondo parish to watch the ceremonies naming Pedro Calungsod as one of seven new saints in the Catholic faith.

"The canonization of Saint Pedro Calungsod is a major and historic event for the Catholic Church and our predominantly Catholic nation," Binay said in a statement from Rome.

"The event fills us with pride as Catholics, yet it calls on us to exercise humility and reflect on the supreme sacrifice made by Saint Calungsod in defence of his faith."

Thousands from all walks of life holding small replicas of Calungsod, many of them teary-eyed, trooped to at least three different venues in Manila where the government had set up giant screens on which to show the solemn proceedings in Rome.

As Pope Benedict XVI read the names of the seven new saints, church bells across the Philippine rang out for a few minutes to welcome Calungsod's sainthood.

"I am filled with joy. We now have two saints to intercede for our many problems," said Nanang Linda Petra, a 54-year-old mother of 12, who took a day off from her work as a laundry woman to watch the ceremonies.

Leony Mercado, a 65-year-old retired engineer and a grandmother of five, openly wept as Calungsod's name was called out.

"These are tears of joy. I cannot help but be overwhelmed," she said, adding that when one of her children, a 35-year-old woman, died due to an aneurysm in January, prayers to Calungsod helped to ease her suffering.

"I have asked Saint Pedro Calungsod to help bring her to heaven," she said, while clutching a small banner with a likeness of the saint.

Calungsod is only the second Filipino to become a saint, after Lorenzo Ruiz, a missionary who was killed in Japan in 1637 and canonised in 1987.

Six others were also canonised Sunday, including Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native American to become a saint.

Calungsod is the new patron saint for the youth, in recognition of his age -- believed to be just 17 -- when he was killed in Guam in 1672 while attempting to convert natives.

He qualified for sainthood last year after the Vatican officially recognised a 2003 "miracle" in which a 49-year-old Filipina woman declared dead from a heart attack was revived after a doctor prayed to Calungsod for help.

In 2011, the Vatican said the incident could not be explained scientifically, and Pope Benedict subsequently acknowledged the incident as a miracle by Calungsod.

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