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November 5, 2012

Father Raymond de Souza in last week's WCR chose to criticize the exuberance of Phil Fontaine, the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who saw the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha as a step towards the reconciliation of Canada's aboriginal peoples with the Catholic Church.

Fontaine, himself a residential school survivor, linked the canonization with a 2009 delegation of First Nations leaders to the Vatican where they received a papal apology for Church involvement in the schools.

De Souza is right that the Church did not canonize St. Kateri in order to take another step toward reconciliation. However, it does seem churlish to deny Fontaine the inner peace and outward reconciliation with the Church that he evidently desires.

The Church canonized St. Kateri because she was holy and suffered a spiritual martyrdom, not because it deemed that this was the time for a First Nations saint.

Canonization, however, requires a miracle. The miracle comes from God himself in response to the intercession of the holy person being considered for canonization.

Who are we to say we understand God's purposes in choosing to act miraculously at St. Kateri's request at this time, a remote 342 years after her death. Is it not a possibility that God withheld his miracle until now to ensure her canonization at a time when reconciliation between the Church and First Nations was most needed?

Narrow enthusiasms surround every canonization. The Filipinos rejoice when one of their number is canonized; we would rejoice too if an Albertan were declared a saint. Our local enthusiasms are signs of the incarnation in our own culture and community.

Pope Benedict named St. Kateri the protectress of Canada. In that light, one matter for which we can surely implore her intercession is that aboriginal people claim and be given a full place in the life of the nation.

Canada's original sin is its suppression of the First Nations. While at first the persecution was two-sided, eventually a white domination was established that wiped out the buffalo, shunted native people to "reserves" on the least economically viable land available and put many of their children in residential schools with the explicit purpose of stripping them of their culture.

Government action, while needed, will not be the main factor in healing this original sin. Both the aboriginal and mainstream cultures need conversion, a change of heart, that will foster harmony, equality and concrete initiatives. Walking this path requires divine guidance.

St. Kateri and say, the Jesuit martyrs, would be most appropriate heavenly intercessors on behalf of such healing.

If that is so, then Phil Fontaine was not far off the mark in rejoicing at the prospect of reconciliation.