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Pope makes 800 new saints in just one day

Pope Francis has proclaimed the first saints of his pontificate: 800 Italians who were beheaded by Ottoman raiders in the 15th Century after they refused to convert to Islam.

It is the biggest group canonisation yet.

In his homily during the canonisation ceremony yesterday, the Pope sounded the alarm over the persecution of Christians, stating: "We ask God to sustain the many Christians who, today, in many parts of the world, right now, still suffer violence."

The Vatican has previously expressed concern over attacks on Christians in the Middle East. The 800 sainted martyrs were murdered in 1480, after they were captured during a raid on Otranto in Puglia in southern Italy.

However, the ceremony was marred by a doctor's claim that a nun's "miracle" cancer cure, which paved the way for the mass canonisation, was due to chemotherapy rather than divine intervention.

The nun, Sister Francesca Levote, made an allegedly miraculous recovery from ovarian cancer in 1981 when fellow nuns prayed to the Otranto martyrs.

Sr Levote's return to health was deemed by the Vatican as inexplicable and the miracle required to elevate the 800 to sainthood.

Salvatore Toma, a doctor who treated Sr Levote, claimed the nun's recovery was the work of medical science, not God.

He told 'La Repubblica' that he and his team treated the nun with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. "That is how we observed, after about two years, a complete clinical response," he said.

"I cannot sustain that it was a miracle, but a scientific event," added Dr Toma. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent