The hardships that St. Kateri encountered growing up in New York in the 1600s have been well documented. She was the daughter of a Mohawk father and an Algonquin Christian mother. She fell in love with Jesus and was welcomed into the church at age 20. Health issues, which began when she contracted smallpox, left her physically scarred. Her physical weakness did not prohibit her from teaching children about Jesus. At the tender age of 24, Kateri died and the smallpox scars that disfigured her face miraculously disappeared. From that day, witnesses to the miracle petitioned church leaders to declare the young woman a servant of God.
In 1932, Kateri was declared “venerable” by Pope Pius XII, the first step toward sainthood. In 1980, Pope John Paul II moved the process forward when he beatified her. Thirty-two years later, her canonization was finally realized.
In declaring her sainthood, Pope Benedict XVI said Kateri was faithful “to the traditions of her people,” but also faithful to the Gospel.
“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” said Pope Benedict.
Listening to the reaction of Native American Catholics is a gift all of us can cherish. Since the time of St. Kateri, Native Americans have been victims of a changing civilization. While they held tightly to their culture and beliefs, the world around them moved in a different direction, leading to many forms of injustice.
Yet their ties to mother earth helped cultivate an appreciation for the environment, one that is compatible with Catholic doctrine.
During his homily at St. Michael Church in Keshena, Norbertine Fr. David McElroy offered an accurate description of St. Kateri as someone to whom young Catholics can turn. Not just for her intercession in times of trouble, but as a Christian model.
“We commemorate St. Kateri today because in these times of difficulty and uncertainty, she is a model of hope for our young people, an inspiration that, despite all the difficulties in life we will go through, that in the word of Jesus Christ himself, ‘If we take the cup of suffering, it will become the cup of blessing.'”
Today, the once frail and humble Lily of the Mohawks dances among the communion of saints. May St. Kateri continue to bring young and old to Jesus from her heavenly perch, just as she did so many years ago while on earth. St. Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.