Pope Francis has approved moving ahead with 16 causes for sainthood, which include multiple 20th-century martyrs, the foundress of a religious order with U.S. ties and a lay Portuguese woman.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presented the cases on March 27, and the Pope approved decrees recognizing their various degrees of advancement.

The person with the closest ties to the United States who made a step closer to sainthood was Servant of God Mother Maria Teresa Bonzel. She founded the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration at the request of Bishop Konrad Martin in 1863, with the aim of serving the growing number of poor children in Germany.

However, a widespread conflict between the German government and the Catholic Church over control of education and ecclesiastical appointments, known as the Kulturkampf, forced the sisters to leave their homeland and move to the U.S. on Nov. 25, 1875. Once there, they dedicated themselves to educating children and health care as they did in Germany.

The miracle associated with Mother Maria Teresa involved a four-year-old boy from Colorado Springs, Colo. who was suffering from a severe viral infection that should have run its course in one week. Some sisters from the Franciscan order began a novena to their foundress and the boy was healed in 2001 without a scientific explanation.

Pope Francis also approved declarations of martyrdom for 62 people, many of whom were killed during the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1938. Their numbers include Bishop Emanuele Basulto Jiménez of Jaén, Father Joaquin Jovani Marin and 14 companions from the Diocesan Labourer Priests of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, five priests from the Diocese of Ávila, and Capuchin Franciscan Father Andrea Palazuelo with 31 companions.

Dominican Friar Giuseppe Girotti, who died April 1, 1945 in the Dachau cocentration camp, was also recognized as a martyr. He was arrested by the Nazis in Italy for arranging hideouts and escape routes for Jews. When he was captured Fr. Girotti was helping a wounded Jewish person. 

Salesian Brother Stephen Sándor, who was hung by the Hungarian communist government in 1954, was also named a martyr.
The final martyr approved by the Pope was the Italian seminarian Rolando Rivi, who was killed on April 13, 1945 on the Plains of Monchio after three days of torture by communist partisans.

The declarations for martyrdom each say that the person was "killed in hatred of the faith."

One of the steps toward sainthood involves the Pope agreeing that the person being considered lived a life of "heroic virtue."

Today he recognized two Spanish diocesan priests, a Mexican religious priest, two Italian religious priests, a Polish lay brother and a Portuguese laywoman as heroically virtuous.