Canada’s first native saint canonized
KAHNAWAKE, Que.—Kateri Tekakwitha Muriella Caputo is a little young to realize she carries the name of North America’s newest aboriginal saint.
The 13-month-old from Kamloops, B.C. peered at the fabled aboriginal woman’s marble tomb for a few minutes yesterday before being distracted by the hubbub preceding a celebratory mass at the shrine housed in a church on the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve near Montreal.
Kateri Tekakwitha has been credited with life-saving miracles and was singled out for her life of devotion in the face of staunch opposition from her peers.
In naming her a saint, the Pope noted in a Vatican City ceremony how unusual it was in Tekakwitha’s culture for her to dedicate herself to her Catholic faith.
“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” said Benedict, who spoke in English and French in a nod to Tekakwitha’s Canadian heritage.
In Kahnawake, Odette Caputo, the mother who named her child after the new saint, said Tekakwitha’s devotion struck a chord with her and her husband.
“She has a real devotion to God,” noted Caputo. “We wanted our daughter to have the same thing.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement that Tekakwitha never abandoned her faith.
“The canonization of Saint Kateri is a great honour and joyous occasion for the many North Americans and aboriginal peoples who cherish her witness of faith and strength of character,” Harper noted.
Tekakwitha joins Juan Diego, an indigenous man who lived in what is now Mexico, as aboriginals from North America who have become saints.
Diego was canonized by Pope John Paul in 2002.
Tekakwitha, who also is known as “Lily of the Mohawks,” was born in New York state in 1656 before fleeing to a settlement north of the border to escape opposition to her Christianity.
She died in 1680 at the age of 24.
The process for her canonization began in the 1880s and Tekakwitha eventually was beatified by Pope John Paul in 1980.
A steady stream of people have visited her shrine.
Her canonization was sealed by an event six years ago when prayers to her are credited with stopping the spread of a flesh-eating infection in a youngster belonging to the Lummi tribe in Washington.
Yesterday, aboriginal Canadians and Americans in traditional dress sang songs to Tekakwitha as the sun rose over St. Peter’s Square.
Applause also thundered through a school gym in Kahnawake when Tekakwitha’s name was invoked as the ceremony was rebroadcast a few hours later.
In the hours before the celebratory mass, which ended with a procession to her tomb, people milled around in the shrine’s museum and gift shops.
Tekakwitha looked down at them from statues and portraits. In the church, a stained glass window with her picture lit up as the sun broke through overcast skies.
Even though she died more than 300 years ago, the faithful spoke of her warmly, using her first name.
“She was one of the first Catholic natives and she was really brave for being Catholic,” said Michelle Phillips, 12, pointing out that Tekakwitha followed her faith despite the objections of a stern uncle who took her in after her parents died of small pox.
“When I found out she was becoming a saint, I was really happy.”