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First Native American saint will soon be canonized

December 19, 2011 - Andrea Johnson
It's taken more than 300 years, but Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is about to become an official saint of the Roman Catholic Church. This is a big deal because she will be the first Native American ever canonized.

According to Wikipedia, which is perhaps not the most reliable source available, Tekakwitha was a Mohawk woman born in 1656 in upstate New York to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father. At age four she survived an outbreak of smallpox that killed both her parents and her brother, but was left with poor eyesight and facial scars. She was raised by an uncle who took away the rosary her mother had given her and discouraged her from following Christianity. Despite her family's opposition to Christianity, she was baptized by a Jesuit missionary at age 20 and took the name Kateri, a Mohawk form of Catherine.

She was pious but faced disapproval from other members of her tribe for her religious practices, which included sleeping on thorns and piercing her body to draw blood to bring her closer to Christ. I guess I can understand why her family disapproved of that, but it's the sort of thing saints are known to do. Kateri Tekakwitha eventually fled to a community of Indian Christians in Quebec where she lived a life of prayer and penance and cared for the sick and aged. She died there at age 24. After she died, people claimed that the scars on her face disappeared.

Also following her death, Christians began attributing saintly powers to her, but it took centuries for her to receive official recognition by the Catholic Church. She was declared venerable in 1943 and beatified in 1980. Before she could be named a saint, miracles had to be attributed to her and her cause had to be investigated by the Church. Today the Vatican announced that she is to be canonized and will officially be Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

Kateri has been particularly popular among Native Americans, for good reason, since she will be the first official Native American saint. Kateri has many namesakes among Native American Catholics and her cause has been popular on the Turtle Mountain Reservation, where there are a lot of Catholics. There will undoubtedly be local celebrations on the day she is officially canonized.

The Catholic Church seems to have made a habit in recent years of canonizing saints that people can identify with, which I think is a good idea. A Saint Kateri Tekakwitha will be a role model for young Native American Catholics, a saint who looks like them.

 
 

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