Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
VATICAN CITY – Pope Benedict has formally recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, paving the way for the canonization of the 17th century "Lily of the Mohawks."
Blessed Kateri is the young Indian maiden who, despite objections from some in her own clan, came to know and love Christ.
Before a date is set for her canonization, there must be an "ordinary public consistory," a formal ceremony, during which cardinals present in Rome express their support for the pope's decision to create new saints.
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 Blessed Kateri and six other people.
He also formally recognized the martyrdom of 64 victims of the Spanish Civil War and advanced the causes of 18 other men and women.
Blessed Kateri was born in 1656 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Christian Algonquin raised among the French.
She was born into a period of political and religious turmoil, 10 years after three of the Jesuit martyrs were tortured and killed: Rene Goupil, Isaac Jogues and Jean Lalande.
Indians blamed the "Blackrobes" for the sudden appearance of deadly white man's diseases, including smallpox.
When Kateri was four, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and baby brother. Kateri survived, but her face was disfigured and her eyesight impaired.
According to legend, she was raised by relatives who began to plan her marriage. But after meeting with Catholic priests, Kateri decided to be baptized and pursue religious life. When she was baptized on Easter in 1676 at age 20, her relatives were not pleased.
She fled the next year to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga on the St. Lawrence River, about 15 km from Montreal. She reportedly made her first Communion on Christmas in 1677.
She astounded the Jesuits with her deep spirituality and her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She took a private vow of virginity and devoted herself to prayer and to teaching prayers to the children and helping the sick and elderly of Caughnawaga.
Kateri was not the only member of her community to embrace Christianity during a colonial time fraught with conflict and struggle for native tribes. But to her older, more educated Jesuit mentors, she was remarkable.
When her request to start a religious community was denied, Kateri continued to live a life of austerity and prayer. She was said to perform "extraordinary penances."
She died in 1680 at the age of 24. Eyewitnesses, including two Jesuits and many Indians, said the scars on her face suddenly disappeared after her death.
Her tomb is in Caughnawaga. There is a shrine to her in St. Francis Xavier Church there.
Soon after Blessed Kateri died, Catholics started to claim that favours and miracles had been obtained through her intercession. First Nations people have made appeals for recognition of her sanctity since at least the late 1800s.
Documentation for her sainthood cause was sent to the Vatican in 1932. She was declared venerable in 1942, the first step to sainthood that recognizes the candidate's heroic virtues.
Two miracles that occur after death are generally needed for a sainthood cause to move forward. After the Church confirms a first miracle, the candidate is beatified. Kateri was beatified in 1980.
Documentation for the final miracle needed for her canonization was sent to the Vatican in July 2009.
It involved the recovery of a young boy in Seattle whose face had been disfigured by flesh-eating bacteria and who almost died from the disease. The boy recovered completely. A tribunal determined there was no medical explanation for it.
Blessed Kateri is listed as patron of North American aboriginal people, ecology and the environment, and is held up as a model for Catholic youths.
The National Tekakwitha Conference, based in Great Falls, Mont., was started in 1939 as a way to unify Catholic native people from different tribes across Canada and the United States. Its 2008 conference was held in Edmonton.