In a ceremony fraught with diplomatic and security overtones, Pope Francis on Sunday canonized the first two saints from the modern region of Palestine at a consecration mass in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. The move was long in the works, but comes just days after the Vatican angered Israel by upgrading its diplomatic ties with the Palestinians, and also comes amid intensifying concerns among Catholic leaders about the future of the Christian faith in its Middle East birthplace.

Church officials said the two nuns will be the first figures from the Middle East to be recognized as saints since the early days of Christianity. They will also be the first Arabic-speaking Catholic saints. In his homily, the pontiff emphasized the importance of following the example of “succeeding generations” of Christians as a path to holiness.

While many canonized saints in the Church originate from the Holy Land, such as St. Mary and St. Peter, the first pope, Sisters Maria Baouardy and Mary Alphonsine Danil Ghattas will be the first “modern Palestinian saints,” according to Fouad Twal, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who called the canonization “a spiritual high point for the inhabitants of the Holy Land.” FULL REPORT