The Vatican on Sunday beatifed 13 martyrs who died during a Roman Catholic uprising in the late 1920s that was crushed by the Mexican government. Lines of the faithful, some of whom traveled from across the country and abroad, began streaming into the 60,000-seat soccer stadium hours before the ceremony began. Many sang songs and chanted as they arrived after long pilgrimages from all over Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city.
They filled nearly all the seats at the arena, where Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints, arrived from Rome to oversee the ceremony.
Those without tickets ringed the stadium and listened outside, while thousands of others tuned in to radio and television broadcasts in nearby restaurants and shops.
The Portuguese-born Saraiva Martins, who heads the Vatican office overseeing sainthood, called the martyrs "faithful witnesses" to the power of the church and promised that history has not forgotten them. Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood.
Massive, glossy sketches of the martyrs adorned the soccer field, arranged around a towering cross. Pope Benedict XVI appeared on video screens, reading a message from the Vatican.
"They are a permanent example for us, an encouragement to give concrete testimony of our own faith in today's society," the pope said in Spanish of the martyrs.
The ceremony ended with the explosion of fireworks over the stadium. The martyrs all died during the 1926-29 Cristero War, in which tens of thousands perished fighting the government over religious restrictions such as the banning of public masses and religious garb. The conflict was sparked by the 1917 constitution that grew out of the Mexican Revolution and tightened already tough limits, capping a century of setbacks for the Roman Catholic church. The church had enjoyed a government-imposed monopoly of faith for most of the 300 years following Spain's conquest of Mexico in 1521.
Restrictions on the church have gradually eased, though Mexico did not re-establish diplomatic relations with the Vatican until 1992. Among the beatified was Luis Padilla Gomez, who was born in Guadalajara, 280 miles (450 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City, on Dec. 9, 1899, and served as president of Mexico's Young Catholic Association. He was arrested, tortured and killed by soldiers in 1927. Also tortured before his death in 1927 was Ezequiel Huerta Gutierrez.
Ramon Vargas Gonzalez studied medicine and was known for preaching on behalf of the church before he was shot to death along with his brother on April 1, 1927.
Others chosen for beatification included Jose Sanchez del Rio, who was stabbed to death at age 14, and priests Jose Trinidad Rangel, Andres Sola Molist and Dario Acosta Zurita, reports the AP. I.L.