THE VATICAN has beatified nine members of a Polish family, including an unborn child, who were executed by Nazis for sheltering Jews during the Holocaust.
Józef Ulma, his wife Wiktoria, her unborn baby and their six other children were shot dead on March 24, 1944 along with the eight Jewish neighbours they had harboured for almost two years in the attic of their home in Markowa, south-east Poland.
Speaking from the Vatican today, Pope Francis described the family's actions as 'a ray of light in the darkness'.
Sunday's ceremony in Markowa is the first time an entire family has been beatified — the step before canonisation and sainthood.
Presided over by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro on the Pope's behalf, thousands of people attended the event, which saw relics that had been exhumed from the family's grave brought to the altar.
The reliquary will rest in a side altar at St Dorothy's Church in Markowa for the faithful to worship.
The town is also home to a memorial and a museum named in the family's honour, which commemorates Poles who risked their lives to save Jews during WWII.
Following Sunday's midday Angelus, Pope Francis led a round of applause at St Peter's Square for the Ulma family.
"Today in Markowa, Poland, the martyrs Józef and Wiktoria Ulma, with their seven children, were beatified: an entire family exterminated by the Nazis on March 24, 1944 for having given shelter to some persecuted Jews," said the Pontiff.
"They opposed the hatred and violence that characterised that time with evangelical love.
"May this Polish family, which represents a ray of light in the darkness of the Second World War, be for all of us a model to imitate in the zeal for goodness and service to those in need.
"A round of applause for this family of Blesseds!"
Beatification sees a deceased person declared blessed and worthy of veneration in geographical regions associated with their life.
Those who have been beatified can plead with God on behalf of those who pray to them.
It is the penultimate stage on the path to sainthood, with canonisation requiring the candidate to perform one miracle following their beatification.