10/17/12 | 875 views
Long-awaited Canonization of St. Kateri Bringing Joy to Many
Like many saints, Kateri Tekakwitha lived and died in obscurity. Only gradually, after her death, did she become known more widely for her heroic holiness. Her cause for canonization was introduced, but it proceeded slowly.
Now the whole world will hear about her life, her faith and her sanctity when she is canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on World Mission Sunday, Oct. 21. She will be the first Native American saint.
St. Kateri already is known in the New York Archdiocese, and her canonization will bring about a joyful change here: The parish in LaGrangeville that was named in her honor with the title “Blessed” will become St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish.
Msgr. Desmond O’Connor, the pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, noted in an interview that her image appears on the bronze doors of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and her statue stands inside St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie. She also is depicted in a stained-glass window in St. Andrew’s Church in Manhattan (see photo).
“From the earliest days of the archdiocese, she was considered one of our major saints,” Msgr. O’Connor said.
He is leading a pilgrimage of 71 persons who have gone to Rome for the canonization ceremonies. Parishioners at home also will celebrate. Father Brian Graebe, parochial vicar, will offer the first Mass in the church under its new title, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, on Oct. 21 at 7 a.m. He and others will watch highlights of the canonization on television.
The parish has received permission to celebrate the Mass of St. Kateri—usually celebrated on her feast day, July 14—at all weekend Masses Oct. 27 and 28, and all homilies that weekend will focus on her.
Devotion to St. Kateri is especially strong among Native American Catholics. Kateri was a Mohawk; her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother an Algonquin Christian.
Sister Kateri Mitchell, S.S.A., also a Mohawk, is the executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference, an organization devoted to evangelization and service among Native Americans in the United States and Canada and those who minister to them. It is based in Great Falls, Mont. She said in an interview that St. Kateri’s canonization, which she will attend, is very important to Native Americans.
“It is an affirmation of who we are as indigenous people, and I think that the deepening of our cultural experience within the Church will be more fully recognized,” Sister Kateri said. “And from that, I think that our faith will also become much stronger…I think our baptismal commitment will take on a stronger, deeper meaning in the lives of our people.”
She noted that St. Kateri is the patroness of the Tekakwitha Conference, and said that she believes the canonization “will further the process of the New Evangelization” among Native American Catholics. She estimated their number in the United States at about 600,000.
Almost 1,000 persons participated in the 73rd annual Tekakwitha Conference, held in Albany in July. The event included a daylong pilgrimage to two sacred places: the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine at Fonda, site of the village where St. Kateri lived from about age 10 to 21 and where she was baptized, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs at Auriesville, site of her birth.
Among those who participated in this year’s conference was Jake Finkbonner of Ferndale, near Seattle, whose healing was approved as the miracle needed for St. Kateri’s canonization. Jake, now 11, was close to death five years ago with an infection caused by flesh-eating bacteria. His family is part Native American, and they prayed to Blessed Kateri.
Sister Kateri, informed of the boy’s grave illness, sent a message to all members of the Tekakwitha Conference asking for prayers. She then traveled to Jake’s hospital bedside and, with his mother, touched a first-class relic of Blessed Kateri to his body. Shortly afterward, doctors found that the spread of the infection had stopped.
Jake and his family will attend the canonization ceremonies.
St. Kateri, of course, is beloved by Catholics of many backgrounds. One of them is Brenda Von Burg of Wappingers Falls, a member of St. Mary’s parish there. A retired teaching assistant, Mrs. Von Burg was a Girl Scout leader for more than 40 years. About 25 years ago, she began helping her troops to earn the Girl Scouts’ Religious Award by learning about then-Blessed Kateri. She researched Kateri’s life, taught the Scouts about her and brought them to her birthplace at Auriesville.
“I wanted to acquaint them with someone I believed would be a saint one day, and who was a young woman,” she said in an interview. “She showed her faith by the way she lived, and I felt that she was an excellent role model for young girls. I still believe that.” She also believes that all Catholics can learn from St. Kateri’s example.
“She had a lot of tragedy in her life, a lot of sadness, but she had so much faith,” she said.
Msgr. O’Connor agrees that St. Kateri offers a fine example to young people, and he noted her devotion to the virtue of purity. He also said that she has special meaning for persons involved in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, because she herself received instruction in the faith as an adult, at age 19, and was baptized at 20.
Kateri was born in the village of Ossernenon, now Auriesville, about 40 miles west of Albany. She was orphaned at 4 when a smallpox epidemic ravaged the village; the illness scarred her face and left her with weakened health and poor eyesight. She was adopted by an uncle. When her relatives observed her feeling her way around, they gave her the name Tekakwitha, “She pushes with her hands.”
Even as a child, she knew her mother had been a Christian, and she longed to embrace the faith also. When her relatives tried to push her toward marriage, she resisted out of a deep desire to devote herself exclusively to God, even though she did not yet know much about him. Her relatives scorned her, but she bore their unkindness patiently.
When Jesuit missionaries came to her village, she did not ask for instruction immediately because of her family’s opposition, but when an opportunity arose for her to speak with a priest, she told him of her longing for baptism. He instructed her, and on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1676, he baptized her, giving her the name Catherine, which translates into Mohawk as Kateri.
After her baptism Kateri endured taunts and mistreatment in her village. With assistance from other Christian Indians, she fled to a Jesuit mission at Kahnawake, near Montreal, where she devoted herself to prayer, penance and care of the sick and elderly. She died there in 1680 at 24.
The Jesuits at the mission reported that immediately after she died, her pockmarked face became smooth, radiant and beautiful. Others who were present also saw the transformation. People who had known Kateri began to pray to her, and there were numerous reports of favors granted and cures obtained through her intercession.
Kateri was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XII in 1943 and Blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1980.
Sister Kateri of the Tekakwitha Conference said that more than 2,000 Native Americans from the United States and Canada are expected to attend the canonization.
“We are very grateful to our God that this has happened within our lifetime,” she said. “We’ll be able to share this joy with the younger generation to come…Our faith and our culture will continue in their lives.”
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