Kateri Tekakwitha becomes Canada’s first aboriginal saint
Published Sunday, October 21, 2012 7:07AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, October 21, 2012 10:33PM EDT
A woman who is credited with life-saving miracles was canonized Sunday, becoming Canada’s first aboriginal person to become a saint.
Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman, was among the seven saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, as thousands of spectators from around the globe gathered to witness the historic event.
In his homily, Benedict praised each of the seven new saints as examples for the entire church.
"With heroic courage they spent their lives in total consecration to the Lord and in the generous service of their brethren," he said.
A Canadian pilgrim from Oakville, Ont. said representatives from continents around the globe filled St. Peter’s Square.
“You walk around and hear a lot of people praying in different languages,” Steve Catlin, a religion teacher, told CTV News Channel from Rome on Sunday. “There’s quite a feeling of oneness and of the human family.”
A number of aboriginal Canadians and Americans sporting traditional garments sang songs to Tekakwitha as they were joined by pilgrims from around the world.
Tekakwitha, also known as “Lily of the Mohawks,” is said to be a role model for retaining her Christian faith despite being ostracized by her peers.
Born to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother in present-day upstate New York in 1656, Tekakwitha was the sole survivor in her family following a smallpox outbreak.
Tekakwitha was left scarred and disfigured, but alive.
After moving to her uncle’s home near present-day Montreal, Tekakwitha was baptized by Jesuit missionaries and given the Catholic name Kateri, which is Mohawk for Catherine.
However, Tekakwitha was persecuted by other natives for her faith. She died at the age of 24.
Her body is entombed in a marble shrine at the St. Francis-Xavier Church in Kahnawake, a Montreal-area Mohawk community that was expected to be well represented among the 1,500 Canadian pilgrims who attended the celebrations.
Speaking in English and French, in honour of Kateri's Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Kateri's indigenous culture for her to choose to devote herself to her Catholic faith.
"May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are," Benedict said. "Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America."
Tekakwitha joins Juan Diego, an indigenous Mexican, as aboriginals from North America who have become saints.
Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul in 2002.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people packed a school in Kahnawake to watch a rebroadcast of the canonization and roared with applause when the Pope declared Tekakwitha a saint.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tekakwitha’s canonization was a joyous occasion for North Americans and Aboriginal peoples.
“The Government of Canada stands with those who are celebrating her life on this day in Canada, the United States and throughout the world,” he said in a statement.
CTV News’ Ben O’Hara-Byrne said loud cheers could be heard from the crowd as each of the new saints was canonized.
“There’s a real sense of joy here, especially among the Canadians,” said O’Hara-Byrne. “It’s a moment they’ve been waiting for, and praying for a long time.”
He said what really stood out about Tekakwitha was her devotion to her faith in the face of prosecution.
“In a world where people move around a lot, one often finds themselves in strange new places but it doesn’t mean you can’t hold on to what you value,” said O’Hara-Byrne. “In some sense they feel like Kateri Tekakwitha, even 330 years later, still honours that message and that particular way of life.”
Tekakwitha qualified for sainthood based on a “miracle” that cured a boy suffering from a flesh eating disease.
Prayers offered to God through Tekakwitha is what the Vatican believes saved the life of Jake Finkbonner, a young boy from Washington.
Finkbonner developed a deadly flesh-eating disease at six years old and doctors said there was little that could be done to save the boy’s life.
The family summoned Sister Kateri Mitchell, a Mohawk from the Akwesasne reserve who had a bone relic of Tekakwitha. The family held it on their son’s chest, and began to pray. From that point forward, the infection stopped spreading.
Jake Finkbonner, now 12, and his family were present in Rome for the celebrations.
With files from The Canadian Press