CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING
Sr. Kateri Mitchell, a member of the Mohawk nation, presents a relic of St. Kateri Tekakwitha during her canonization by Pope Benedict in St. Peter`s Square at the Vatican Oct. 21.
Attending the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha last month was a profound spiritual experience for the pastor of Wetaskiwin and Hobbema and a group of his aboriginal parishioners.
Father Marc Cramer was one of seven pilgrims from Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish in Hobbema and dozens from across Alberta that attended the canonization of St. Kateri in Rome Oct. 21.
"Kateri is the first native American-born saint and so it's very important for my parish of Hobbema and for the people there. That's why I'm glad some people from the parish went as well."
Other priests that went, including one from St. Paul and another from Saskatoon, were able to get into St. Peter's Square and managed to reserve seats for Cramer and company.
"Unfortunately I couldn't get in," he lamented.
"We spent about three hours going through security. We were there early and everything, but it was such a crowd. By the time we got to the gate they had decided to close it off."
However, all the aboriginal people got into the square and had a good view of the celebration, he said.
Cramer didn't leave, though. "We sat down with the German people who couldn't get in as well. They had come for the canonization of a German saint. We just sat down and listened to the Mass."
Since Cramer was outside the cordoned-off area where the canonization was being held, he couldn't receive Communion. But he did attend a Mass with Cardinal Thomas Collins later that evening and was able to receive the sacrament.
The night before the canonization all the aboriginal people from Canada got together and watched a video on St. Kateri's life.
Cramer said the native people in his group were happy they went to Rome. "They were very proud and said it was very exciting because they were very close to the pope. It was a very spiritual moment for them."
Fr. Marc Cramer
Native people clearly identify themselves with St. Kateri, according to Cramer. "They see her as one of them."
St. Kateri was born in 1656 in Ossernon, now known as Auriesville, N.Y. But she died while serving the Catholic Church in Kahnawake, Quebec, and for centuries since has been a symbol of hope for aboriginal people in Canada.
"They see her as a holy woman. It's a good thing the Church has done in their lives," Cramer said of the canonization.
St. Kateri suffered from smallpox at the age of four and was left scarred and partially blind.
She was ostracized for wanting to devote her life to God. She left her village and made her way to the Catholic mission of St. Francis-Xavier in Sault-Saint-Louis, Quebec, where she eventually received her First Holy Communion in 1677.
The devout woman made a vow of celibacy and decided to remain devoted to Jesus Christ for her entire life. She died at the age of 24 after years of severe penance and deteriorating health.
People who witnessed her death nearly 300 years ago said her scars disappeared shortly after her passing and her face was left beautiful and intact. She was then named "Lily of the Mohawks."
She was declared venerable in 1943 and was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980.
While Cramer was in Rome, the Hobbema parish had special prayers to St. Kateri, asking for her intercession. They also watched parts of the canonization on television.
Apart from attending the canonization, Cramer and company "did the normal things people do when they go to Rome."
They took time to pray, visited various churches and did some shopping but, as Cramer put it, "it was a great spiritual trip more than anything. We were there because of Kateri."