VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II elevated to sainthood Sunday 16 Roman Catholic missionaries, known as 'the martyrs of Nagasaki and Manila,' who were tortured and killed for their faith in Japan 350 years ago.
Before a standing room crowd of 30,000 people packing St. Peter's - the largest church in Christendom -- the pontiff canonized nine Japanese, four Spaniards, a Filipino, a Frenchman and an Italian. The mass in the Basilica marked Catholicism's 40th annual World Missionary Day.
The worshippers broke into applause as John Paul solemnly proclaimed as saints the 16 martyrs beatified in Manila on Feb. 18. 1981.
The new saints included the first Filipino elevated to sainthood. Lorenzo Ruiz, a layman with a wife and three children, chose to die with the group of missionaries rather than deny his religion.
Among the worshippers was 6-year-old Cecilia Alegria, a Filipino girl cured in 1983 of cerebral paralysis without any effective medical treatment in what the Vatican certified as a miracle due to 'the intercession of the 16 martyrs.'
John Paul said the saints can serve as examples for Nagasaki, Japan and Asia as a whole and can 'contribute to extending truth and Christian love through this vast continent.'
'These holy martyrs -- diverse in origin, language, race and social conditions -- are united with each other and together with all the people of God in the mystery of salvation of Christ the redemptor,' the pope said.
Although the saints died in Japan between 1633 and 1637, they are called 'the martyrs of Nagaski and Manila' because 11 of them were instructed and confirmed in Catholicism in the Philippines.
Nine of the new saints were Dominican priests, three were teachers of the catechism, two were women members of the Dominican third, or secular, order, and two were laymen.
Seized by authorities for their missionary work, some were tortured then buried alive. Others had sharpened sticks driven under their finger and toenails, were forced to drink large amounts of water, were burned alive or decapitated.
Ruiz, who had a Chinese father and Filipino mother, was a sacristan at a Dominican church in Binondo near Manila. Suspected of a crime, he fled Spanish police by joining a group of missionaries traveling from Manila to Japan June 10, 1636.
Refusing to renounce his faith, Ruiz is said to have told his jailers, 'I would even give a thousand lives if I had them.' Ruiz died Sept. 29, 1637. His body was cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea.
The other new saints are Spanish priests Domingo Ibanez de Erquicia, Lucas Alonso, Antonio Gonzales and Miguel de Aozaraza; French priest William Courtet; Italian priest Giordano Ansalone; Japanese priests Joseph Kyushei Gorobioye Tomonaga, Thomas Hioji Rokuzayemon Nishi and Vincent Schiwozuka; and six other Japanese, third order members Maddalena of Nagasaki and Marina of Omura; catechism teachers Francis Shoyemon, Michael Kurobioye and Matthew Kohioye; and layman Lazarus of Kyoto.