ROME – Pope Francis on Sunday canonized 35 new Catholic saints, among them Spaniard Father Manuel Miguez Gonzalez, a late 19th and early 20th century figure who dedicated his life to the education of women, which is the reason some consider him a “feminist” saint.

Others canonized by Francis on Sunday were Father Angelo of Acri, Italy, a Capuchin Franciscan, as well as 33 martyrs, including three young children from Mexico, and 28 lay people as well as two priests murdered for their faith in Brazil.

In introducing the new saints, Francis said that without love the Christian life is “empty,” like a soulless body, “an impossible ethic, a collection of rules and laws to obey for no good reason.”

For God, Francis said on Sunday, “it is not enough that we should do our duty and obey his laws. He desires a true communion of life with us, a relationship based on dialogue, trust and forgiveness.”

His words came during his homily, as he was celebrating a canonization Mass in Rome’s St. Peter’s Square.

As is usually the case, Francis’s homily didn’t reflect directly on the newly created saints, but on the day’s Gospel, a passage from the book of Matthew in which Jesus uses the parable of the king who invites the guests to his son’s wedding feast, which represents the Kingdom of God.

The original guests refused to attend the feast, one going to take care of his farm, another his business. When they refused a second time, the king then asked his servants to invite whomever they found, “good or bad.” Once the celebration was underway, upon seeing someone not dressed for the occasion, the king sent him away, “into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”

“Such is the Christian life, a love story with God,” Francis said. “The Lord freely takes the initiative and no one can claim to be the only one invited. No one has a better seat than anyone else, for all enjoy God’s favor.”

Christian life, he continued, is born and reborn in this “tender, special and privileged love,” which is the reason why, he told the faithful, those who follow Christ should daily ask themselves if they tell God that they love him.

“Because once love is lost, the Christian life becomes empty,” he said “It becomes a body without a soul, an impossible ethic, a collection of rules and laws to obey for no good reason.”

Speaking about those who rejected the invitation to the wedding feast, Francis said that those who did so didn’t think it would be boring, but simply “made light of it.”

“They were caught up in their own affairs,” he said. “They were more interested in having something rather than in risking something, as love demands. This is how love grows cold, not out of malice but out of a preference for what is our own: our security, our self-affirmation, our comfort… We settle into the easy chair of profits, pleasures, or a hobby that brings us some happiness. And we end up aging badly and quickly, because we grow old inside.”

Yet in the face of rejection, Francis continued, God doesn’t “give up,” doesn’t shut the door but “broadens the invitation. In the face of wrongs, he responds with an even greater love.”

Despite being hurt by the “no” he receives, God continues to do good, even for those who do evil, because “this is what love does.”

“Today our God, who never abandons hope, tells us to do what he does, to live in true love, to overcome resignation and the whims of our peevish and lazy selves,” the pope said.

The 35 new saints

It’s worth noting perhaps that as with every canonization, Francis technically didn’t “create” new saints, but simply recognized them as such. Catholic teaching holds that God “makes” saints, while the Church recognizes their sanctity ex post facto.

Manuel Miguez Gonzalez, who took the religious name Faustino of the Incarnation, was a priest and a professed member of the Piarists. Born in Spain in 1831, he died in 1925. In 1885 he founded an institute dedicated to evangelization through the education and promotion of women.

According to Sacramento Calderón, Superior General of the Calasancio institute, founded by Miguez, he was a man dedicated to the “marginalized, the needy, and women, who during those years lived a great marginalization.”

She believes that the new Spanish saint can be considered, “in the good sense of the word a ‘feminist,’ because he fought so that women could fulfill the role they belong to in society. He restored the dignity that wasn’t given to them in those times. He fought for women, which was a conquest at the time.”

Miguez’s focus on equal education for men and women came after seeing first-hand how girls were excluded in this area 130 years ago. He was also a botanist, with a dozen registered medicines derived from plants, and a professor of science.

According to the man behind Miguez’s canonization cause, the most surprising thing is that the miracle attributed to the saint’s intervention was the healing of a woman: “It’s a continuation of his coherence,” he said.

The woman who was inexplicably healed is Chilean Verónica Storberg, who was in Rome for the canonization. “Father Faustino used to say that educating a woman is to educate a family. He knew that it’s the woman who embraces the family and that the mother’s absence can be catastrophic,” she told Spanish news agency EFE.

Miguez was declared blessed by St. John Paul II back in 1998.

Among the other saints Francis recognized on Sunday, 33 of them were martyrs, meaning that they were killed in hatred of the faith. This is the case of diocesan priests Andre de Soveral and Ambrosio Francisco Ferro, killed in Brazil on July 16, 1645, and Mateo Moreira, a layman, and 27 fellow martyrs, who were also killed in hatred of the faith in Brazil a few months later.

They are known as the “Martyrs of Natal,” and they were assassinated in a wave of anti-Catholic persecution by Dutch Calvinists in Natal, Brazil.

Francis also canonized the three children from what is now Mexico, who were martyred in the 16th century and are considered the first Christians killed for their faith in the New World. The children, believed to be between 11 and 13 at the time they were killed, were of the Talaxcaltec people, an indigenous pre-Colombian group.

Their names were Cristoforo, Antonio and Juan. Cristoforo was killed by his own father in 1527. He was a tribal chief who refused his child’s attempts to convert him from paganism. The martyr was beaten and then thrown into a fire. The other two were beaten to death in 1529 by the people in their village after their conversion, and for helping Dominican missionaries.

Father Angelo of Acri, was an intinerant priest of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchins. He served in some of Italy’s most remote southern areas, and lived in Italy from 1669-1739.

In his homily, Francis said that the new saints didn’t say a “fleeting yes” to love, “they said their ‘yes’ with their lives and to the very end.”