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Blessed Kateri is nearing Sainthood

August 19, 2009

Mohawk woman could be declared saint by Vatican

By Jorge Barrera, Canwest News Service — August 13, 2009

More than 320 years after her death, a Mohawk woman is on the cusp of canonization as the Vatican reviews newly collected evidence of a miracle that could place her among the saints.

Just what the recent miracle is that’s been attributed to the intercession or divine intervention of Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, remains a closely guarded secret.

Evidence of the miracle — which took two years to compile — was sent to Rome last month in a diplomatic pouch through the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C., said Monsignor Paul Lenz, the church official who was charged with finding a miracle that could qualify Kateri for sainthood.

The matter now rests with the Vatican’s Secretariat for Beatification and Canonization, which will issue a recommendation to the Pope, who will make a final decision on Kateri’s beatification, said Lenz.

“Only God knows” how long the process could take, Lenz said this week in an interview with Canwest News Service.

The canonization of Kateri — who died at the age of 24 in 1680 and is entombed inside the St. Francis-Xavier Church in Kahnawake, a Mohawk community near Montreal — may be a mere formality.

She is already prayed to by believers throughout the Americas and in parts of Europe, and celebrated every year at a festival in Fonda, N.Y., about 65 kilometres northwest of Albany, the state capital.

“In my mind, there is no doubt of the holiness of Blessed Kateri,” said Lenz. “She is truly worthy to be named a saint.”

Some among Kateri’s supporters say her canonization has been delayed because she was Mohawk.

“The fact she was native slowed her down,” said Ronald Boyer, a deacon at St. Francis-Xavier Church. “That should have happened before our time.”

If she is canonized, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops says Kateri will be the 11th saint from Canada. Kateri was born in 1656 in a Mohawk village near Fonda.

Her mother was Algonquin who was captured around Trois-Rivieres, Que. and was married to a Mohawk chief, according to Darren Bonaparte, a historian who recently published a book on Kateri’s life titled The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekahkwitha.

She experienced war and pestilence at a young age. Her village was burned by the French in 1666. Her mother, father and younger brother all died during the smallpox epidemic of 1661-62. She survived the disease, but it damaged her eyesight and left her face scarred. She remained weak throughout her life, shunning sunlight, emerging only covered with a shawl or a blanket, said Bonaparte, a Mohawk who lives in Akwesasne, a First Nation community about 100 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

She was baptized Catholic in 1676 and, after facing pressure from her uncle to give up Catholicism, was spirited away with the help of her brother-in-law and the Jesuits to the mission of St. Francois Xavier du Sault, in an area along the St. Lawrence River around what is now Kahnawake and Ville Sainte-Catherine.

There, Kateri found a Mohawk community in the midst of extreme religious fervour, said Bonaparte.

Bonaparte said Kateri, who took a vow of virginity and attempted to start her own convent, was swept up in the movement.

Her devotion likely killed her. Standing about 4 1/2 feet tall, Kateri frequently fasted, weakening her already frail body. She once scattered thorns on her bed and lay on them for three nights, Bonaparte said.

When she died, it was reported that her scarred face became beautiful, and that priests and friends saw her in visions, while miracles were attributed to her intercession. Her crucifix, pieces of her garments and the dirt from her grave were rumoured to have healing powers, said Bonaparte.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
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