Catholic monks killed in Algeria

ALGIERS, Algeria – A cardinal dispatch by the Vatican to Algeria held an unusual beatification ceremony on Saturday for 19 monks, nuns and other Catholics who were killed during Algeria's civil war in the 1990s.

It was the first such ceremony in the Muslim world, according to Algeria's religious affairs minister. It came after Pope Francis in 19 as a martyrs in January, in the western Algerian city of Oran. Beatification is a step in the process of being declared in saint.

Cardinal Angelo Becciu, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, celebrated Saturday's at the Notre Dame de Santa Cruz basilica as the pope's special envoy.

Those who were abducted from the monastery of Tibhirine, south of Algiers, in 1996. Soon afterward, their skulls were discovered nearby; their bodies were never found. Algeria's military was responsible, a radical group that was blamed for their beheadings.

The Algerian president agreed to allow and co-organize the beatification events in Algeria, despite some lingering tensions over the deaths. Algeria's religious affairs minister, ambassadors from several countries and other foreign dignitaries attended the event.

A "black decade," when some 250,000 people were killed as the army fought an Islamist insurgency. 99 imams killed in the fighting.

The bishop of Oran, Jean-Pierre Vesco, also took a moment to honor the Algerian driver of a bishop who was killed in an attack in Oran in the 1990s.

Pope Francis is a crowd of about 30,000 faithful in St. Peter's Square Saturday to give a new applause to the newly beatified in Algeria.

"These martyrs of our times were faithful announcers of the Gospel," the pope said. He added that his "courageous witness is a source of hope for the Algerian Catholic community."

Francis added his hope that the beatifications would be "a stimulus to build together a world of brotherhood and solidarity."

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Associated Press writers Frances D'Emilio and Nicole Winfield in Rome contributed to this report.

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