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Exuberant jubilation' greets news Blessed Kateri to be canonized

  • December 22, 2011
    PHOTO A statue of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is seen outside the Kateri Shrine in Fonda, N.Y., in this 2010 file photo. Pope Benedict XVI has advanced the sainthood cause of Kateri, the first Native American to be beatified. The church has recognized the second miracle needed for her canonization. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)


    By Mark Pattison
    Catholic News Service

    WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The announcement of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's impending canonization "is the news we've been waiting for shortly after her beatification," said Sister Kateri Mitchell about her namesake.
    The waiting, though, has taken a long time. Blessed Kateri was beatified in 1980.
    Regarding her reaction to the news Dec. 19 from the Vatican that a second miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri has been recognized, "I guess the word is overwhelming and also just exuberant with jubilation," said Sister Kateri, laughing.
    A Sister of St. Ann, Sister Kateri said she was "blessed" with receiving the name Kateri when she entered religious life in 1959.
    Sister Kateri has been executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference National Center in Great Falls, Mont., for the past 14 years and has been affiliated with the center since the 1970s. At the center, joy was the reigning emotion as calls and emails came in.
    "We've had a call from a bishop, who's very excited, and an email from another bishop who's very excited. Also some of our members received the news in email ... and they're responding with such joy it's unbelievable," she told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.
    A member of the Mohawk Nation as was Blessed Kateri, Sister Kateri (pronounced CAT-tery) was raised on the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk International Reservation, which stretches from New York into Canada. She said her parents had a devotion to Kateri Tekakwitha and would frequently make what for them was a 200-mile trip to Blessed Kateri's birthplace and the town where she was raised.
    Blessed Kateri was born in 1656 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. A smallpox epidemic left her orphaned at age 4, and she was raised by her relatives. But after she was baptized at age 20, against the wishes of family members and many in her clan, Kateri fled to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga, not too far from Montreal.
    The name Kateri is the Mohawk equivalent of Katherine, said Sister Kateri. "Even as a little girl I was very familiar with her."
    "As Native American Catholics, I think this just brings such great joy and gratitude to our model" of faith, she added.
    "The people that I've met from other cultures and countries would say, 'You Native Americans or indigenous of America need a saint of your own.' I'd say, 'I totally agree with you, and please pray with us.'"
    Sister Kateri said, "I consider it one of the greatest gifts anyone could receive for Christmas."
    "It's certainly a wonderful day to get this message," Msgr. Paul Lenz, U.S. vice postulator of Blessed Kateri's cause, told CNS Dec. 19.
    Msgr. Lenz has served as a vice postulator for the past five years, assisting a Jesuit priest, Father Tom Pare, for two years until Father Pare died. Msgr. Lenz had been executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington for 32 years prior to his retirement from active ministry and coordinated all of the events surrounding Blessed Kateri's beatification in 1980.
    He said that he will coordinate the liturgies surrounding the impending canonization, while his successor at the Black and Indian Mission Office, Father Wayne Paysse, will be in charge of the pilgrimages to Rome for canonization ceremonies. The mission office is an umbrella organization several entities including the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.
    Msgr. Lenz said the Vatican investigation into the now-authenticated miracle was "a very, very effective tribunal."
    In Canada, the canonization of an aboriginal woman will be the answer to a prayer for all native peoples.
    "There's a natural sense of pride and joy," among native people, said Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse.
    On hearing that Blessed Kateri will be canonized, perhaps as early as spring 2012, Bishop Gordon planned to phone his old friend Steve Point, the lieutenant governor of British Columbia. Point is a former elected chief of the Skowkale First Nation.
    "I'm gonna say to him, 'Steve, we've got to go to Rome!'" the bishop told The Catholic Register in Toronto.
    "Awesome!" was the word from Grace Esquega, director of the Kitchitwa Kateri, a church for aboriginal Catholics in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
    Esquega repeated the word several times when Father Larry Croker called to give her the news.
    "There have been prayer circles. People have been in touch with the devotion for years. There will just be great joy over it, finally after all this time," said Croker.
    In northwestern Ontario, native rendezvous weekends and music ministries have been organized around devotion to Blessed Kateri since the 1970s.
    At the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, where a couple of statues of Blessed Kateri are popular, manager John Zurakowski predicted the annual First Nations' pilgrimage will attract new participants.
    "The First Nations pilgrimage will grow because now it's one of their own elevated to sainthood," Zurakowski said.
    On missions across Canada, the beatification will demonstrate that the Catholic Church is truly with the people, said Father Philip Kennedy, president of the organization Catholic Missions in Canada.
    "In the minds of the First Nations people, she's already a saint," said Father Kennedy. "She's already someone to whom they can appeal for sympathy with their troubles, for help with discrimination. She's gone through what they are going through."
    Kateri is significant not only for aboriginal Catholics but also for native Lutherans and Anglicans, said Kennedy. Her status as a role model of spiritual life also crosses borders.
    "When I went to a mission conference in Guatemala they had a huge picture of her, like a three-storey-high picture," Father Kennedy said.


    Pope advances sainthood causes of Marianne Cope, Kateri Tekakwitha

    By Carol Glatz
    Catholic News Service
    VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI advanced the sainthood causes of Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
    He also formally recognized the martyrdom of 64 victims of the Spanish Civil War and advanced the causes of 18 other men and women.
    During a meeting Dec. 19 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed the decrees recognizing the miracles needed for the canonizations of Blesseds Marianne and Kateri.
    Before a date is set for the canonization ceremonies, there must be an "ordinary public consistory," a formal ceremony opened and closed with prayer, during which cardinals present in Rome express their support for the pope's decision to create new saints.
    Blessed Marianne, who worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York, spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai to those with leprosy. She died on the island in 1918 at age 80 and was beatified in St. Peter's Basilica in 2005.
    Blessed Kateri, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 in upstate New York along the Hudson River. She was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676 when she was 20, and she died in Canada four years later. In June 1980, she became the first Native American to be beatified.
    Pope Benedict also recognized miracles attributed to the intercession of five other people, who now can be declared saints. They are:
    -- Blessed Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women. He died in 1913.
    -- Blessed Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit priest who was martyred in Madagascar in 1896.
    -- Blessed Carmen Salles y Barangueras, the Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She worked with disadvantaged girls and prostitutes and saw that early education was essential for helping young women. She died in 1911.
    -- Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay Catholic from Cebu, Philippines, who accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Guam as a catechist and was martyred there in 1672 while he was in his late teens.
    -- Blessed Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman who wanted to be a missionary, but couldn't do so after a succession of physical accidents and disease. She accepted her infirmity as a way of sanctification. Her grave has been a pilgrimage site since her death in 1925.
    Pope Benedict also signed decrees that pave the way for numerous beatifications:
    -- He recognized the martyrdom of 64 priests, religious and a layman, Jose Gorostazu Labayen, who were martyred between 1936 and 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.
    -- He recognized the martyrdom of Father Nicolaus Rusca, a Swiss priest who was tortured and killed after being condemned by a Protestant court in 1618.
    -- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Father Louis Brisson, the French founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.
    -- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Italian Father Luigi Novarese, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State and founder of the Silent Workers of the Cross Association.
    -- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Mother Maria Mole, the French founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis.
    -- He formally recognized the miracles needed for the beatifications of two nuns, one from Argentina and one from Italy.
    The pope approved seven other decrees recognizing that the men and women lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and that they are venerable. Recognition of a miracle attributed to each candidate's intercession is needed for that person's beatification.

    Boy's recovery from flesh-eating bacteria judged a Kateri miracle

    By Terry McGuire
    Catholic News Service
    SEATTLE (CNS) -- Elsa and Donny Finkbonner of St. Joseph Parish in Ferndale had no doubt that their young son's recovery from a deadly flesh-eating bacteria almost six years ago was a miracle.
    On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict XVI confirmed that when he signed a decree acknowledging a miracle attributed to the intervention of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in the recovery of Jake Finkbonner from the rare and potentially fatal disease, necrotizing fascilitis.
    In February 2006, just before his sixth birthday, the boy was playing basketball when he suffered a cut on his lip that enabled the bacteria to invade his bloodstream. Days later, he was near death at Children's Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center in Seattle.
    Because the family is part Native American, Father Tim Sauer, then-St. Joseph pastor, suggested they pray to God through Blessed Kateri (1656-1680), a Mohawk woman who devoted her short life to her Catholic faith and to caring for the sick and elderly. Known as the Lily of the Mohawks, she was beatified in 1980, the first native North American to be so honored. Her feast day is July 14.
    Jake beat the odds and recovered, and with the approval of then-Archbishop Alex J. Brunett of Seattle, the case of Blessed Kateri's intercession was investigated as the possible one remaining miracle needed for her canonization.
    The Finkbonners were elated upon receiving the news -- and of their son's part in it.
    "It's so overwhelmingly exciting, and just an honorable process to be a part of," Elsa Finkbonner said Dec. 20.
    She said Jake, now a sixth-grader at Assumption School in Bellingham, is "pretty excited about it," too.
    "It's been five years in the making, so he's pretty excited that everything is all coming to light and that it's all happening," she told The Catholic Northwest Progress, Seattle archdiocesan newspaper.
    Finkbonner said Jake also is looking forward to meeting the pope when the canonization takes place.
    "There's no doubt in mine and Donny's mind that Jake's survival is in fact a miracle," she said. "And we did everything that Father Tim had asked us to do in praying for her intercession. And others prayed for him. So I'm happy that the Vatican has honored Jake to be the last miracle in (Blessed) Kateri becoming a saint."
    Father Sauer said he thought it was appropriate that the news of Blessed Kateri's upcoming canonization should come during Advent. Just as God chose ordinary people in Mary and Joseph to be the "instruments of that miracle" of the birth of Jesus, "God continues to do miracles today to strengthen people's faith and to use ordinary people like (Blessed) Kateri and Jake Finkbonner," he said.
    He said Jake's recovery was a "great testament" to the faith of the Finkbonners, the Native American Catholics on the Lummi Reservation and people all over the world who were praying for the boy.
    He said Blessed Kateri's canonization will be a boost to Native American Catholics across the country.
    "I think this is a real affirmation and encouragement to Native American Catholics who continue to live their Catholic faith, oftentimes in the face of a lot of criticism and opposition," he said.