Pope Francis has canonized two nuns from what was 19th century Palestine in hopes of encouraging Christians across the Middle East who are facing a wave of persecution from Islamic extremists.

Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints Sunday at a Mass in St. Peter's Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an estimated 2,000 pilgrims from the region, some waving Palestinian flags, were on hand for the canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity.

Church officials are holding up the new saints as a sign of hope and encouragement for all Christians in the Mideast at a time when violent persecution and discrimination have driven many Christians from the region of Christ's birth.