Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized by Pope Benedict XVI Oct. 21. Karen Callaway/Catholic New World

Toronto pilgrims to take in canonization of Blessed Kateri

By  Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register
  • April 24, 2012

TORONTO - When Grace Esquega, director of the Blessed Kateri Mission at the Kitchitwa Kateri Anamewgamik parish in Thunder Bay, Ont., heard that her beloved Kateri Tekakwitha was going to become a saint, she cried.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Esquega says. “When somebody else told me, I had to see it for myself on the news.”

Esquega is one of 70 people heading on a pilgrimage to Rome in October organized through St. Ann’s parish in Toronto, home of the Native Peoples’ Mission of Canada, for the canonization of the native girl exiled from her home because of her devotion to Jesus Christ.

The canonization ceremony is scheduled for Oct. 21.

Kateri Tekakwitha was a native born to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother in what is now upper New York State. She later settled in the Kahnawake region of Quebec, where she died at age 24. Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980, Pope Benedict XVI cleared her way for sainthood earlier this year.

Bob White, a layperson at St. Ann’s and one of the key organizers of the pilgrimage, was shocked by the number of people who wanted to go on the pilgrimage.

“Originally, we thought maybe 40 people,” said White. “We had to keep expanding. And we still have a wait list of about 20 people who would love to go.”

Esquega attended the beatification ceremony of Blessed Kateri in Rome in 1980. Now, returning for the canonization with several members of her parish and her family, including her two granddaughters, Esquega says she wants to “go all out.”

“I’m encouraging everyone to dress up,” said Esquega. “How do we celebrate us as native people? We sing, we play the drums, we dance… and we dress up. When I go, I’ll take my drums. And I will sing as I journey.

“We might not be close up, but to be right there when it’s actually happening… it’s going to be awesome.”

The pilgrimage mostly includes people from St. Ann’s, Blessed Kateri in Thunder Bay and the Kateri Native Ministry of Ottawa. Fr. Frank Wagner, pastor at St. Ann’s, said this group was one of the first to start forming a trip. 

“We called around and there didn’t seem to be much organization,” said Wagner.

“So we decided to plan something ourselves.”

Since then, other pilgrimages have been organized from Montreal and Quebec City, as well as several from the United States. And though the canonization is sure to be packed with Catholics from around the world, White is trying to get his group an audience with the Pope while there.

“My people… they want to go in as aboriginal people, they want to go in as a collection, they want to go in as the First Peoples of Canada.”

But White said no matter what, he knows the trip will be a memorable experience.

“(The canonization) is a celebration of spirituality, both Catholic Christian spirituality and native spirituality,” said White.

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