Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
A seventeenth-century Mohawk woman who was baptized at age 20 and died at 24, Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized this weekend in Rome, becoming the first member of North America's First Nations to be recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Some call Kateri "an ambiguous saint" in light of the complexities of her life as well as the tangled history of relations between the Church and the aboriginal peoples of North America. For a view of the canonization from the Mohawk reserve in Quebec that serves as Kateri's final resting place, here is a report from today's Montreal Gazette:
Floors of the old shrine have been freshly swept, the gift shop is stocked with candles and holy cards, and firefighters are up a ladder out front hoisting a giant banner.For more on Kahnawake's reaction to Kateri's canonization, here is a report published today in the Globe and Mail:
It’s not every day a local girl becomes a saint.
Even when that local girl actually grew up somewhere else and died about 25 kilometres away 332 years ago.
At St. Francis Xavier Mission in Kahnawake, all is in readiness for the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th-century maid who will become North America’s first aboriginal saint this Sunday.
Hundreds of indigenous people from across the continent will be in Rome Sunday when Pope Benedict XVI bestows sainthood on Catherine (Kateri) Tekakwitha, also known as the "Lily of the Mohawks."
Among those attending will be Albert Lazare, who has spent most of his life waiting — and working — for this day to come.
"It’s hard to explain how I feel," Lazare, 78, said during a tour of the beautiful mission and shrine where Tekakwitha’s white Carrera marble tomb has a place of honour near the altar.
"People come and pray at the tomb. There is a basket where they leave their intentions."
Lazare was just 17 when he got a part-time job working for Rev. Henri Béchard, the Montreal-based priest overseeing the case for Kateri in the years after the Vatican declared her venerable in 1943.
After he finished school, Lazare became the full-time office administrator.
For 61 years, first alone, and later with help from his wife, Eileen, Lazare has done the bookkeeping and handled the mail, filled with pleas, intentions and poignant tales of favours received and would-be miracles attributed to Tekakwitha on the long road to sainthood.
The canonization of Kateri is bringing out mixed feelings among native Canadians, for whom the Catholic church has a dark legacy of colonialism, conversions and the trauma of residential schools. For some, the Pope’s move to bestow the church’s highest honour on a native woman is a milestone in their relations with the church.May our mother among the saints Kateri pray to God for us. AMDG.
"This is part of the healing process. It’s acceptance," said Arnold Lazare, Albert’s son, who is accompanying his parents to Rome. "In the early years of residential schools, native kids were considered second-class citizens. By recognizing Kateri, the church is saying she’s one of the chosen people. By accepting her, they’re accepting native people and our traditions, whereas before, they weren’t."
. . .
Response to her sainthood varies in Kahnawake, where Catholic religious observance is on the wane and interest in longhouse traditions has gained strength. Only a few hundred feet from the Kateri shrine, a sales clerk and a customer in a tax-free cigarette shop expressed profound indifference to Sunday’s canonization.
For others, Kateri represents a bridging of Catholic and native spirituality. Even the non-observant see a moment of pride in Sunday’s canonization. Kahnawake grand chief Mike Delisle Jr., who considers himself a non-practising Catholic, was preparing to board a flight for Rome on Friday. He is one of more than 2,000 pilgrims who are expected in Rome this weekend, many of them aboriginals from across the United States and Canada.
"I’m going to pay homage to a proud Mohawk woman who stood up for what she believed in, right up to her death," Chief Delisle said. "She was part of this community, this nation, this culture, and she’s a Mohawk regardless of your religion or culture. We’re matrilinear," he said, "and people should take pride."