A cardinal dispatched by the Vatican held a beatification ceremony for 19 monks, nuns and other Catholics who were killed during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, the first ceremony of its kind in a Muslim nation, according to the news channel France 24.

Pope Francis recognized all 19 as martyrs in January, paving the way for Saturday’s ceremony in the Algerian city of Oran.

Beatification is a step in the process of being declared a saint. The Algerian president agreed to allow the beatification ceremony in Algeria despite continued tensions over the deaths.

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

The French monks were kidnapped from the monastery of Tibhirine, south of Algiers, in 1996. A radical group was blamed for their beheadings, but some observers have suggested Algeria’s military was responsible.

Their severed heads were discovered two months later, and their deaths were announced by the insurgent Armed Islamic Group of Algeria, according to France 24.

The five other religious men and six women killed, including citizens of France, Spain, Belgium and one born in Tunis, were gunned down in 1994 and 1995.

The tragedy inspired a 2010 French film, “Des Hommes et des Dieux” (“Of Gods and Men”), starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, which won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

Some 200,000 people lost their lives in Algeria’s 1991-2002 civil war between Islamists and security forces, described as the country’s “Black Decade.”



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