Sunday, October 21, 2012

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Earlier today at the Vatican, there was a canonization ceremony for seven new saints. One particularly stands out to North Americans, as she is the first Native American saint to be canonized by the Church.

Called the Lily of the Mohawks, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York. Her father was a Mohawk and her mother was a Christian Algonquin. As a child, she lost her parents and brother to smallpox. The disease also damaged Kateri’s eyesight and scarred her face. In fact, the Mohawk name Tekakwitha translates as “one who walks groping her way.” She was adopted by her aunts and uncles. 

She was baptized on Easter 1676 by French Jesuit missionaries. Missionaries were not welcomed by the Mohawks, because of the obvious tensions between the French, Dutch, and natives at the time. The Mohawks blamed French Jesuits for bringing disease. Kateri’s tribe was hostile to her conversion, so she moved to a colony in Qu├ębec made up of Christian Indians, where she took care of the sick and elderly. She took a vow of chastity and also subjected herself to self-punishment. She died at the age of 24. It was said that the scars on her face vanished, and soon after, people reported seeing visions of her. She is the patron of environmentalists, ecologists, and exiles. Her feast day is July 14.

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