Bishop Ricken joins Native American Catholics in honoring St. Kateri

By | November 28, 2012

The Mass began with a procession that included traditional jingle and hoop dancers entering the church to the sound of ceremonial drums beating from the choir loft. Joining Bishop Ricken at the altar was Norbertine Fr. David McElroy, pastor.


Bishop David Ricken smiles as St. Anthony Parish youth sing about Christ the King at the conclusion of Mass Nov. 25 at St. Anthony Church in Neopit. Also pictured is Norbertine Fr. David McElroy, pastor. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)


During his homily, Bishop Ricken read a history of St. Kateri’s life and explained that her example of faith is one that all native people can emulate.

“Even though she died over 350 years ago, she is still very much alive and working from heaven,” said Bishop Ricken. “You could say that Kateri fell in love with Jesus Christ. She never married, she stayed single and her whole life was dedicated to living in complete conformity to the way of Jesus.”

He shared the story of her birth in 1656, how she lost her parents to smallpox at the age 4, how her face was scarred after contracting the disease, and how she was introduced to Christ by a Jesuit priest.

Bishop Ricken said that he had the opportunity to pray at St. Kateri’s tomb while he was on a pilgrimage to New York and Canada last summer.

“It was incredible to kneel there in this older church,” he said. “I knelt down near her tomb and I prayed for you. I prayed for all of the Menominee Nation, the Oneida Nation and all the Native Americans in our diocese,” he said. “I prayed that you may come to know and to love Kateri Tekakwitha and that she will intercede for your families, help you with personal problems … whatever your needs and concerns are.”

Returning to her life’s story, he said St. Kateri received her first Communion on Christmas Day in 1677 and died at age 24 on April 7, 1680.

“A miraculous thing happened as her spirit was being taken away,” he said. “The facial scarring from the smallpox that she had lived with her whole life vanished. In death it was said that she was radiant and beautiful. She has been long venerated and beloved in Native American communities in this country and Canada.”

Bishop Ricken said it was significant that Kateri Tekakwitha was canonized during the Year of Faith. “We are really concentrating on the new evangelization (during the Year of Faith) and she knew how to evangelize,” he said. “It was very simple. She knew Jesus. She loved Jesus and she served Jesus with her whole life.”

St. Kateri is a “unifying force for the Native American communities,” added Bishop Ricken, and she can bring them closer to God.

“I have every confidence that some of the young men in this community are being called to the priesthood,” he said. “We need to pray for that, that they have the grace to say yes to Jesus’ call because we need people from your community to serve in our diocese, to take good care of all your spiritual needs.”

He said the same holds true for young women who may be called to religious life.

“There are many possibilities, but we really need to have young people say yes to the call of Christ,” he said.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful some day, maybe 100 years from now … if somebody from this community, from our Native American community, would be called to be a saint?” asked Bishop Ricken. “St. Kateri was a prime example of living and bringing from her own native culture. She came to Jesus Christ and then she brought Jesus Christ to her own culture. … Who knows? Maybe one day, somebody from here could be declared another Native American saint.”

Following Communion, Bishop Ricken led the congregation in a special prayer to St. Kateri. Kneeling in front of two tapestries that hung near a side altar in the sanctuary, he asked that the saint intercedes in the lives of Native Americans and brings them closer to Jesus.

“We pray that your light shines down forever upon us, giving us hope, peace and serenity,” he said. “Fill our hearts with your same love for Jesus and grant us your strength and courage to become one like you in heaven.”

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