WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Aboriginal Catholics at Maskwacis hope their two-day event honouring St. Kateri becomes an annual celebration.
July 21, 2014
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
For about 65 years, since she was in her early twenties, Mary Sotto of the Ermineskin Reserve has been studying the life of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and praying to the Mohawk woman who was canonized in 2012.
It was after she attended a conference on St. Kateri in 1989 in Great Falls, Mont., that Sotto's devotion grew and she centred her life on the Church.
"I pray to her a lot, ever since I studied her life," Sotto, 86, said in an interview. "When something goes wrong or I need help, I turn to her.
"From there on, she answered my prayers. So I repeat and repeat, day after day, day and night."
It was Sotto who urged the Catholic people of Maskwacis (formerly, Hobbema) to hold a special event in honour of St. Kateri, a dream that was realized July 11-12.
A Cursillo was held on the Friday evening. The Saturday event, held under a blistering hot cloudless sky, was highlighted by prayer, Mass, several brief talks, religious music, and a featured talk by Sister Kateri Mitchell.
The event also honoured Sister Nancy Leclair Lightning, a sister of the Assumption, who was born in Pigeon Lake in 1911, educated at Hobbema and at several institutions of higher education, and who devoted herself to aboriginal issues and the welfare of native people. Lightning died in 1986.
WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Sr. Kateri Mitchell says St. Kateri Tekakwitha is 'the woman who brings her people together.'
She was remembered as "an expert in the art of making friends" who had a deep sense of the supernatural beauty in both nature and human friendships.
Most of the attention, however, focused on St. Kateri, the Lily of the Mohawks, who lived from 1656 to 1680.
Karen Wildcat, chief organizer of the event, said, "Our community needs to know St. Kateri because she's our native saint.
"We hope that she will bring them to the Church so that they can know her lifestyle."
Wildcat noted that the conference drew some local people who are not regular church attenders. "I just hope that it's an opening for our community to be at peace with ourselves and with the Church."
Like others, she expressed the hope that the event will become an annual event that draws larger crowds than the roughly 100 people who were present on July 12.
Peter Buffalo, a former chief, spoke in similar terms. "We have to let the miracle of St. Kateri take hold of all of us, all First Nations."
The Kateri conference reminded Buffalo of his days at the nearby residential school where he looked forward to outdoor religious events such as Mass, prayers and processions.
In his homily at the Mass, Auxiliary Bishop Gregory Bittman spoke of St. Kateri as one who developed wisdom at a young age after her parents and brother died from smallpox, and she suffered disfiguring scars and loss of eyesight from the disease.
WCR PHOTO | GLEN ARGAN
Mary Sotto has been studying the life of St. Kateri and praying to her for about 65 years.
"This was the beginning of a life of constant surrender," Bittman said. "Hers was a life lived for the Lord."
The greatest witness to Kateri's wisdom and surrender came after her death, he said, when her smallpox scars miraculously disappeared. "What was inside of her all along now became manifest for all to see."
Sister Mitchell said she was asked to bring a relic of St. Kateri that she has possessed since 1980 to Seattle in February 2006 where six-year-old Jake Finkbonner was dying from flesh-eating disease.
She only had a couple of minutes to place the relic on Jake's body and pray with him in the hospital before he was whisked away for a treatment. It was several months later that she learned that he had been healed and was back in school by April.
The cure of young Jake was recognized as a miracle due to Blessed Kateri's intercession, thus paving the way for her canonization.
Mitchell said many healings have been attributed to St. Kateri who she called "the woman who brings her people together."
MORE HEALING NEEDED
"There is much healing taking place and there is much more healing that needs to happen especially for our people."
There must be healing of the trauma caused by residential schools, from addictions, from abuse and of broken family relationships, she said.
Now when she hears St. Kateri mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer of the universal Church, "that is so affirming to all of us as the peoples of North America."
St. Kateri "will continue to give us strength and courage" in overcoming the obstacles of daily life, Mitchell said.