Kateri Tekakwitha – First Native American Catholic Saint

In a historic move, Pope Benedict XVI canonized the first Indigenous American into sainthood on Saturday, October 20.  Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in what is now central New York State.  She was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church at age 20.  After being rejected by her family, she moved to a Jesuit mission near Montreal, Canada, where she taught children until her death four years later.

American Indians have been appealing for Kateri to be canonized for more than a century.  She was given the special status of venerable in 1942, the first step towards sainthood, and was beatified in 1980.

A person must be deceased for at least 5 years, even before he or she can be considered for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.  Afterwards, there are 4 steps in the process.

  1. When the subject arises that a person should be considered for Sainthood, a Bishop is placed in charge of the initial investigation of that person’s life.  If it is determined that the candidate is deemed worthy of further consideration, the Vatican grants a “Nihil Obstat,” a Latin phrase meaning “nothing hinders.”  Henceforth, the candidate is called a “Servant of God.”
  2. The Church Official, a Postulator, who coordinates the process and serves as an advocate, must prove that the candidate lived heroic virtues.  This is achieved through the collection of documents and testimonies that are collected and presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome.  When a candidate is approved, he/she earns the title of “Venerable.”
  3. To be beatified and recognized as a “Blessed,” one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue (or martyrdom in the case of a martyr).
  4. Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification, though a Pope may waive these requirements.  (A miracle is not required prior to a martyr’s beatification, but one is required before his/her canonization.)  Once this second miracle has been received through the candidate’s intercession, the Pope declares the person a “Saint.”

More than 700 Native Americans, many in full regalia, took part in the ceremony in St. Peter’s Square honoring the woman known as the “Lily of the Mohawks.”  A choir singing an Indian hymn was among the participants.  At a Mass on Monday, the 22nd, inside St. Peter’s Basilica, Native Americans will conduct a “smudge” ceremony by burning sage, according to an American church official.

Among those in attendance was a delegation from the Archdiocese of Seattle that included Jake Finkbonner, a 12-year-old boy whose recovery six years ago from necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease, was accorded the status of a miracle by the church.

His survival was anything but certain when his parish and Native Americans around the U.S. and Canada began praying to Kateri.  His recovery was the key in the decision to canonize Kateri, said the Rev. Wayne Paysse, executive director of the bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Finkbonner’s family, who are members of the Lummi tribe, live in Bellingham, Washington.

Anyone who knows me personally, or follows this blog, is fully aware of my harsh views of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Church’s relationship with the Western Hemisphere’s native peoples is written in blood.  It’s the longest and most widespread chronicle of genocide in world history.  Of course, that’s pretty much the case with any branch of Christianity.  Early Spanish conquerors viewed Indigenous Americans with contempt and tried to destroy them.  Spain’s Queen Isabella I put a stop to the bloodshed, however, demanding that her representatives in what are now México and the United States baptize the Indians into Roman Catholicism.  Many Indians conceded; more I think as a matter of survival than acceptance of the strange, new religion.  Nothing can ever compensate for such brutality.  But, the canonization of Kateri is still a measure of goodwill.

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