In a ceremony held today, Sunday, at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI created seven new saints, one of whom, Kateri Tekakwitha, is the first Native American to be canonised.
Amongst the newly created Saints was Kateri Tekakwitha, a North American Indian Mohawk who lived during the 17th century. Saint Kateri thus became the first ever Native American saint of the Roman Catholic Church, reports Euronews.
Kateri Tekakwitha (pronounced ˈgaderi degaˈgwita’ in Mohawk), was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and Algonquin mother in what is now New York state. Kateri, who survived smallpox as a child, was orphaned. She had converted to Catholicism at the age of 20 and spent the last years of her short life at the Jesuit mission at the village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, in what was then New France. She came to be known as ‘Lily of the Mohawks’.
At her death at the age of 24, it is said that scars which had marked her face since she had contracted smallpox at an early age were erased. Others reported having had visions of the young Indian woman after her death.
It has been a long road towards the canonization of Saint Kateri. The process was initiated by Roman Catholics based in United States Catholics as long ago as 1884, subsequently supported by Canadian Catholics. On January 3, 1943, Kateri Tekakwitha was declared ‘venerable’ by Pope Pius XII. She was beatified as Catherine Tekakwitha on June 22, 1980 by Pope John Paul II.
Saint Kateri has been credited with a number of miracles.
Joseph Kellogg was a Protestant child captured by Native Americans during the 18th century and eventually released home. A year later, Kellogg contracted smallpox, but the Jesuits who were treating him had no success and the boy was failing. The Jesuits held relics from Tekakwitha’s grave, but were reluctant to use them on a non-Catholic. One Jesuit told Kellogg that, if he confessed and embraced Roman Catholicism, help would come. The young Joseph Kellogg did so and a Jesuit gave him a piece of decayed wood from coffin, which is said to have healed Kellogg.
Various other miraculous recoveries were informally attributed to Kateri Tekakwitha. A priest, Father Rémy is reputed to have recovered his hearing and a nun in Montreal was allegedly cured by using items which had formerly belonged to Tekakwitha.
As word spread about Kateri Tekakwitha’s supposed healing powers, some people would collect earth from her grave-site, carrying it in small bags as a pendant. In his book, Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits, Allan Greer writes that one woman said she was cured from pneumonia and gave the pendant of graveside earth to her husband, who was healed from his disease.
Alex Plank Wikimedia Commons
The only known portrait of Kateri Tekakwitha, painted Father Chauchetière between 1682-1693
The disappearance of Tekakwitha's smallpox scars after her death was declared ‘an authentic miracle’ by Pope Pius XII in 1943 whilst on December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI approved the second miracle, which was a pre-requisite for Kateri's canonization. The second miracle recognised by the Vatican occurred in 2006, when a young boy in Washington state survived a severe flesh-eating bacterium. Surgical intervention had been unable to prevent the disease progressing and doctors had advised the boy’s parents that death was likely. The boy received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick from a Catholic priest. As their child was half Lummi Indian, the parents said they, along with family, friends and their son’s schoolmates, prayed through Tekakwitha for divine intervention. A Catholic nun, Sister Kateri Mitchell, visited the boy's bedside and placed a relic of Tekakwitha, a bone fragment, against his body and prayed together with his parents. The next day, the boy’s infection had stopped its progression.
On December 19, 2011, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints certified a second miracle citing Kateri Tekakwitha’s intercession, signed by Pope Benedict XVI, which set the course for today’s canonization
80,000 in St Peter’s Square
An estimated 80,000 pilgrims from all over the world including the United States and Canada, the Philippines, Italy, Spain, Germany and Madagascar had filled St. Peter's Square for the canonization ceremonies, reports the Catholic News Service. Many of the North American pilgrims wore traditional feather head-dresses. Around a quarter of the United States estimated 2.5 million Native Americans are said to consider themselves as Roman Catholics.
The other new saints canonized today were Mother Marianne, a Sister of St. Joseph who travelled from Syracuse, N.Y., to Hawaii to care for people with Hansen's disease, dying in Molokai in 1918, Pedro Calungsod, a teenage Philippine catechist who was martyred in Guam in 1672, French Jesuit Father Jacques Berthieu, martyred in Madagascar in 1896, Italian Father Giovanni Battista Piamarta, founder of religious orders, who died in 1913, Sister Carmen Salles Barangueras, founder of a Spanish religious order, who died in 1911 and Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman, who died in 1925.