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A Portrait of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. Pope Benedict XVI has advanced the sainthood cause of Kateri, the first Native American to be beatified. The church has recognized the second miracle needed for her canonization. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Pope clears way for Kateri Tekakwitha’s canonization

  • December 20, 2011

When Canada’s first aboriginal saint is canonized, it will be an answered prayer for native people across Canada and beyond.

“There’s a natural sense of pride and joy,” among native people said Whitehorse Bishop Gary Gordon.

On hearing the news that Pope Benedict XVI had cleared the way for Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to be canonized, perhaps as early as spring 2012, Gordon planned to phone his old friend Steve Point, the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Point is a former elected chief of the Skowkale First Nation.

“I’m gonna say to him, ‘Steve, we’ve got to go to Rome!’ ” Gordon told The Catholic Register.

Pope Benedict XVI signed the decree Dec. 19 recognizing the miracle in Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha’s cause for sainthood, clearing the way for her canonization.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, “the Lily of the Mohawks,” is the young Indian maiden who, despite objections from some in her own clan, came to know and love Christ.

She was born in 1656 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Christian Algonquin raised among the French.

“Awesome!” was the word from Grace Esquega, director of the Kitchitwa Kateri, a Church for aboriginal Catholics in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Esquega repeated the word several times when Fr. Larry Croker called to give her the news.

“There have been prayer circles. People have been in touch with the devotion for years. There will just be great joy over it, finally after all this time,” said Croker.

In northwestern Ontario native rendezvous weekends and music ministries have been organized around devotion to Blessed Kateri since the 1970s.

At the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ont., where a couple of statues of Blessed Kateri are very popular, manager John Zurakowski predicts the annual First Nations’ pilgrimage will attract new participants.

“The First Nations pilgrimage will grow because now it’s one of their own elevated to sainthood,” Zurakowski said.

On missions across Canada the beatification will demonstrate that the Church is truly with the people, said Catholic Missions In Canada president Fr. Philip Kennedy.

“In the minds of the First Nations people she’s already a saint,” said Kennedy. “She’s already someone to whom they can appeal for sympathy with their troubles, for help with discriminations. She’s gone through what they are going through.”

Kateri is significant not only for aboriginal Catholics but also for native Lutherans and Anglicans, said Kennedy. Her status as a role model in the spiritual life also crosses borders.

“When I went to a mission conference in Guatemala they had a huge picture of her, like a three-storey high picture,” Kennedy said.

Documentation for her sainthood cause was sent to the Vatican in 1932. She was declared venerable in 1942, the first step to sainthood that recognizes the candidate’s heroic virtues.

Two miracles that occur after death are generally needed for a sainthood cause to move forward. After a first miracle is confirmed by the Church, the candidate is beatified. Kateri was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, giving her the title “Blessed.”

Documentation for the final miracle needed for her canonization was sent to the Vatican in July 2009. It involved the recovery of a young boy in Seattle whose face had been disfigured by flesh-eating bacteria and who almost died from the disease. But he recovered completely, and the Vatican confirmed the work of a tribunal who determined there was no medical explanation for it.

“The Indian people in the United States and Canada have longed for the canonization of Blessed Kateri from the moment of her beatification,” Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told Catholic News Service at the Vatican Dec. 7.

Blessed Kateri: a lifetime

Here is a brief timeline of key events related to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.

o 1656: Born in a village on the Mohawk River near Auriesville, N.Y. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Christian Algonquin.

o 1660: Orphaned at age four when a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and her baby brother.

o 1676: Baptized on Easter at age 20.

o 1677: Fled to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga. Reportedly made her first Communion on Christmas.

o 1680: Died at age 24, is buried at Caughnawaga.

o Late 1800s: American Indians began making appeals to the Catholic Church that she be recognized for her deep spirituality and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

o 1932: Documentation for her sainthood cause was sent to the Vatican.

o 1939: National Tekakwitha Conference started to promote evangelization among indigenous Catholics who are members of more than 300 tribes and nations in Canada and the United States.

o June 22, 1980: Beatified by Pope John Paul II.

o Dec. 19, 2011: Pope Benedict XVI approves miracle attributed to her intercession.

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