Canada's Brother Andre, who is credited with thousands of miraculous healings, became a saint during a moving ceremony Sunday at the Vatican.

At least 5,000 Canadians attended the ceremony, which was presided over by Pope Benedict XVI under a bright morning sun in a packed St. Peter's Square.

Benedict told onlookers that despite the fact Brother Andre -- now Saint Brother Andre -- had little education, he was an inspiration to many Catholics.

"He showed boundless charity and did everything possible to soothe the despair of those who confided in him," Benedict said.

Also in attendance were a number of Canadian officials, including Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, who praised Canada's new saint.

"Here is a person who throughout his life had a dream, and he was able to pursue that dream, he was able to build the St. Joseph Oratory in Montreal," Cannon told CTV News Channel on Sunday in a telephone interview from Rome.

"So I think that when one looks at him, and what he was able to do throughout his life, he will be an inspiration for generations of Canadians to come who will be able to look at him as a beacon and as a person who had strong faith, strong commitment and who is now universally recognized."

Francoise Bessette, whose grandfather was Brother Andre's first cousin, was among the Canadians who flew to Rome to witness the ceremony.

"I didn't think this would happen while I was alive," said Bessette. "So to be here today is very special for me."

Montrealers rejoice

Thousands of worshippers who could not attend the ceremony in Rome gathered before dawn Sunday Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory, a landmark church on the northern slope of Mount Royal that receives about 2 million visitors every year.

The decision to canonize St. Brother Andre was the result years of campaigning by supporters in Montreal. In 1940, the Archdiocese of Montreal and the Congregation of Holy Cross and St. Joseph's Oratory took up the cause, submitting a 4,000-page document in support of his sainthood to the Vatican in 1948.

As many as 10 million people also signed a petition calling for St. Brother Andre to be canonized.

From as far away as Toronto, Quebec City and New Hampshire, the devout gathered Sunday.

Many said it's their gratitude to St. Joseph and St. Brother Andre that compelled them to attend the ceremony.

Isabelle Kossarae said the oratory changed her life.

"I used to be a drug addict… and my mom took me here, and believe me, one day I was cured and I changed completely," she said.

Though the believers watched the ceremony on a satellite feed from Rome Sunday morning, Montreal will honour the new saint in a ceremony Oct. 30 at the Olympic Stadium.

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Humble origins

St. Brother Andre was born Alfred Bessette in St-Gregoire-d'Iberville on Aug. 9, 1845, and was orphaned at the age of 12.

In 1904, the Holy Cross brother founded Montreal's St. Joseph's Oratory, a landmark church on the northern slope of Mount Royal that receives about 2 million visitors every year.

He became known for comforting the sick, and is credited with more than 100,000 miraculous healings before his death in 1937 at age 91. Two of those healings met the Vatican standard for a miracle, reported the Globe and Mail's Eric Reguly from Rome.

Reguly said Sunday that St. Brother Andre's popularity was widespread across Canada and around the world, which was reflected in the crowd outside the Vatican.

"He wasn't just popular in Montreal and Quebec. He was very popular in Nova Scotia, in New Brunswick. I interviewed a whole bunch of people from Alberta," Reguly told News Channel in a telephone interview. "A lot of Americans were there, too, because of Andre. Filipinos were there because of Andre, Italians were there because of Andre. He was an international celebrity, he was a superstar, among saints."

St. Brother Andre was declared venerable in 1978 and beatified in 1982.

St. Brother Andre joined a small group of Canadian saints that includes Margaret d'Youville, who was born in 1701. D'Youville was the first saint born in what is now Canadian territory.

Canada's other saints are eight French-born Jesuit martyrs who were killed during wars in the 1640s, and Marguerite Bourgeoys, who was born in France in 1620. Bourgeoys and nurse Jeanne-Mance are considered the founders of Montreal.

Five other saints were canonized Sunday in Rome. Pope Benedict canonized 19th century nun Mary MacKillop, giving Australia its first saint. Other saints canonized on Sunday were Stanislaus Soltys of Poland, Giulia Salzano and Battista Camilla da Varano of Italy and Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola of Spain.

With files from The Canadian Press and