Pope Benedict XVI canonized five new saints Sunday, including a 19th century priest who worked with leprosy patients on an isolated Hawaiian island, praising them as models of perfection for sacrificing themselves for others.
Among the pilgrims packing St. Peter's Basilica was Hawaii resident Audrey Toguchi, an 80-year-old retired teacher whose recovery from lung cancer a decade ago was called miraculous by the Vatican.
She had prayed to Belgium-born Jozef De Veuster, more commonly known as Father Damien, who himself died from leprosy on Molokai island in 1889.
During the ceremony, which lasted more than two hours, Toguchi and her doctor, Walter Chang, joined a procession of faithful bringing relics of the new saints to Benedict at the central altar of the basilica.
The pontiff said the newly canonized had taken up the call of Jesus to give themselves totally without "calculation or personal gain."
"Their perfection, in the logic of a faith that is humanly incomprehensible at times, consists in no longer placing themselves at the center, but choosing to go against the flow and live according to the Gospel," Benedict said in his homily.
Originally, the ceremony was set for St. Peter's Square to accommodate the tens of thousands of pilgrims expected to participate and cheer on their local heroes. The Vatican didn't say why the Mass ended up being celebrated in the basilica, but occasional thunderstorms had drenched Rome over the past two days.
In his homily, Benedict praised Damien's missionary work, saying that "not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the island of Molokai to serve the lepers who were there, abandoned by all."
"Thus he exposed himself to the disease they suffered from. He felt at home with them," the pope said, speaking in Flemish. He added that the missionary contracted leprosy, also known as Hansen's disease, suffering from it during the last four years of his life.
After the ceremony, the pope came out on the basilica's central balcony to greet the crowd in the square. Speaking about Damien in French, he told the pilgrims "I encourage you to support with your prayers and efforts those involved with generosity in the battle against leprosy and other forms of leprosy caused by lack of love or cowardliness."
Sufferers of the disease, which can result in disfigurement, had been ostracized for centuries by their societies, towns and even families. Benedict said Damien "invites us to open our eyes to the lepers that disfigure the humanity of our brothers and today still calls, more than for our generosity, for the charity of our serving presence."
Two leprosy patients participated in one of the processions in the ceremony.
Official delegations for St. Damien included King Albert II and Queen Paolo of Belgium and, for the United States, President Barack Obama's new envoy to the Vatican, Miguel H. Diaz, and Hawaii Sen. Daniel Kahikina Akaka.
Obama, who was born and spent part of his childhood in Hawaii has said he remembers stories about Damien caring for people suffering from leprosy, and about and the stigma attached to it.
In a message for canonization, Obama noted that millions worldwide suffer from disease, especially HIV/AIDS, and called on the world to follow the Damien's example by "answering the urgent call to heal and care for the sick."
Among the other new saints are Zygmunt Szcezesny Felinski, a 19th century Polish bishop who defended the Catholic faith during the years of the Russian annexation, which had led to the shutdown of Polish churches. He was eventually deported to Russia. Among those in the basilica was the former secretary of the late Pope John Paul II, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who is now cardinal of Krakow.
Two Spaniards were honored — Francisco Coll y Guitart, who founded an order of Dominicans in the 19th century, and Rafael Arniaz Baron, who renounced an affluent lifestyle at age 22 to live a humble life in a strict monastery and dedicate himself to prayer. Benedict hailed Brother Rafael, who died at 27 of a diabetic coma, as model for young people "who are not satisfied easily."
The fifth new saint was Jeanne Jugan, a Frenchwoman described by Vatican Radio as an "authentic Mother Teresa ahead of her time." As a nun, she went by the name Marie de la Croix and helped found the Little Sisters of the Poor, which today runs homes for the indigent elderly around the world. She died in 1879.