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Australian Catholics honour nun as first saint

posted 17 Oct 2010, 02:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 17 Oct 2010, 02:37 ]

Australian Catholics flock to the Vatican for the canonisation ceremony of Australia's first ever saint, Mary MacKillop.

VATICAN CITY (SEPTEMBER 17, 2010) REUTERS - A large number of Australian Catholics poured onto Saint Peter's Square on Sunday (October 17) to mark the canonisation of a feisty nun who died a century ago as the country's first Roman Catholic saint.

In her lifetime, Mary MacKillop struggled with the Catholic authorities and was once briefly excommunicated.

She was also instrumental in exposing sexual abuse by an Irish Catholic priest.

She is one of six Catholic figures being canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday at a ceremony in Rome.

"Being a Roman Catholic and being an Australian it's an honour and a privilege to be here in Rome to see this canonisation because it is a very very big occasion in Australia and we are very proud that we have a saint so it is an honour to be here in Rome today and to witness this big day, especially for Australia," said Mary Slough who had made the long journey from Perth, western Australia for the event.

Around five million of Australia's 22 million people are Catholic, making it the country's largest religion.

Born in Melbourne in 1842 to Scottish parents, MacKillop worked to provide Catholic education at a time when many poor children in colonial Australia received no education at all.

"It's terribly important because it's our first, very first saint and I think she represents the spirit of Australia where she was just a woman before her time she was strong and she told the men what to do and she made a big difference in Australia and I think she was a very hardy soul," said Timothy Duvall from Melbourne.

For Louisa Ireson, the canonisation had a special significance.

".....we are related to her, with her mother so we are four generations after and we are very proud of her today, very proud. It's very important for us, because she was just an extraordinary woman way ahead of her time," she said.

MacKillop was beautified by Pope John Paul II in 1995. Late last year the Vatican recognised a second miracle ascribed to her, paving the way for canonisation.

A special cross made from timber taken from MacKillop's original school has toured Australia over the past two months in preparation for her canonisation.

MacKillop's legacy is also felt in New Zealand, and pilgrims from the country were overjoyed to share the day with their neighbours.

"She is important to us because she spent some time in New Zealand and she established her order in New Zealand so she set up her convents and her houses in New Zealand as well. I think she's been to.." said Patricia.

"We are very proud to share her in this place," said Amir.

"Exactly because she came to New Zealand and went to start up schools and everything so she is our saint as well," Bridget Anderson added