Vatican City Seven priests and a nun who were killed during the Spanish Civil War were beatified as martyrs Saturday at a Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, praised for having refused to betray their faith when faced with death.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Saints, presided over the late afternoon ceremony. He said in an opening prayer that the eight had "sacrificed their lives for the Gospel."
All eight were killed in 1936, in the opening days of Spain's civil war. The Catholic Church claims 4,184 clergy were killed during the war by the government, or Republican, side, which accused the church of backing fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.
Pope John Paul II honored several clergy killed in the war during his 26-year pontificate and had approved the beatification of the eight before he died.
Pope Benedict XVI, who presides over saint-making ceremonies but not beatifications, appeared at the end of the Mass and gave a brief blessing, thanking God "for the great gift of these heroic witnesses."
By declaring the eight martyrs, the Vatican was able to proceed with a beatification ceremony without having to confirm a miracle that was attributed to each of their intercessions. Each of the candidates would need to have a miracle confirmed for them to be declared saints.