June 19 (UPI) -- The late French statesman Robert Schuman, one of the founders of post-war European integration, has moved forward on the track to become a Catholic saint, the Vatican announced Saturday.
Schuman, who served as France's prime minister in 1948 and 1949 as well as its finance and foreign affairs minister, was recognized for his heroic virtues by Pope Francis during an audience with Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the Vatican's official news service reported.
In bestowing the title "venerable" on Schuman, Francis put the Luxembourg-born leader on course to be designated as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Schuman, who died in 1963, was a devout Catholic who "lived in prayer and was nourished by the daily Eucharist," the Vatican said.
As a member of the French National Assembly in 1940, he was arrested by Nazi occupiers and imprisoned until April 1941, when he managed to escape. Schuman lived in hiding until the end of the war, taking refuge mainly in Catholic convents and monasteries while working for the French Resistance.
After World War II he embarked on a stellar political career as a founder of the Popular Republican Movement, or MRP.
While serving as foreign minister in 1950, he proposed the Schuman Plan, which called for the creation of a single entity to control the production of steel and coal in France and West Germany.
It resulted in the European Coal and Steel Community, which laid the foundations for the 1958 establishment of the European Economic Community -- predecessor of the modern European Union.
Schuman was elected president of the new European Parliament in 1958, but only a year later he was stricken by a severe form of cerebral sclerosis.
He died in Scy-Chazelles, France, on Sept. 4, 1963, at the age of 77.
Along with Schuman, Pope Francis on Saturday also recognized 10 Catholic nuns who were raped and killed by Soviet troops in Poland at the end of World War II as martyrs.
The sisters earned martyrhood because even though they were targeted specifically because of their Catholic faith, they refused to abandon their duties to the poor and sick despite knowing the risks, the Vatican said.