Mary MacKillop, a Melbourne-born nun who worked with needy children, has officially been recognised as Australia’s first saint by Pope Benedict XVI. (photo, by bbcimg.co.uk)
She was canonised along with five others, including Brother Andre, a Canadian monk credited with miraculous healings.
MacKillop died in 1909. In her lifetime she clashed with senior clergy and was briefly excommunicated, partly for exposing a sex-abusing priest.
Thousands of Australians are in Rome to witness the ceremony. Hundreds of them are nuns from the order MacKillop helped found, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart.
“We’ve always believed that Mary was a saint,” said 65-year-old Moya Campbell, a member of the order.
Father Thomas Casanova, a Catholic priest from New South Wales and a distant relative of MacKillop, said it was a momentous occasion.
“I’ve been looking forward to this since I was a child. She will help us have a greater perspective on life,” he said.
To others it was important to recognise MacKillop’s lifetime of commitment to working with poor people, including Australia’s Aboriginal population.
“She supported Aboriginal people because she believed in supporting people who were disadvantaged,” said pilgrim Melissa Brickell.
“She sought social justice for Aboriginal people, so she is a friend of Aboriginal people from the early, early days.”
Excommunicated in 1871, Mary MacKillop (photo, from abc.net.au) was exonerated by the Church, and she was eventually put on the road to sainthood in 1995, when Pope John Paul II beatified her.
Kevin Rudd, Australian foreign minister, also came to attend the ceremony. He has described MacKillop as “an extraordinary Australian woman”.
In order for anyone to become a saint, the Church has to officially recognise their intermediary role in two miracles.
The first was recognised by Pope John Paul II, and last year Pope Benedict ruled a person had been cured of cancer after praying for the nun’s assistance.
Some have called for MacKillop to made a patron saint of abused children, because of her role in exposing clerical abuse.
There has been a wave of cases around the world in recent months, in which Church authorities failed to deal properly with priests accused of child abuse. Sometimes they were simply moved to new parishes, putting more children at risk.
In Australia MacKillop has become a kind of religious celebrity. She has been the subject of a musical, has stamps and pop songs in her honour and her image has been projected onto Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.
In order to mark her passage to sainthoud, thousands of people have attended a Mass in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral.
And pilgrims have been converging all week on the chapel and museum at the site in North Sydney where she died.
During the same ceremony at the Vatican, candidates from Canada, Poland, Italy and Spain have also been officially recognised as saints.