AKWESASNE — Catholic North American Indians wait no more for Kateri Tekakwitha to be named a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI was to conduct the canonization ceremony at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City at 4 a.m. Eastern time today before thousands of worshipers, including a delegation of 500 from the St. Regis Mohawk Indian Reservation at Akwesasne and the Kahnawà:ke Reservation near Montreal.
Tekakwitha, an Indian maiden of Mohawk and Algonquin descent, died in 1680 at age 24.
She was among seven people elevated to sainthood by the pope today.
Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin woman.
She was orphaned by age 4 when her parents and baby brother died in a smallpox epidemic, which left her scarred and with poor eyesight.
Tekakwitha was baptized in 1676 and received communion for the first time on Christmas Day 1677. She took a vow of perpetual virginity two years later and died April 17, 1680.
Her last words were: “Jesus, I love you.”
Two miracles are attributed to her and led to the declaration of sainthood.
The first was at her deathbed where witnesses saw her facial smallpox scars disappear and sick persons healed.
The second miracle was documented in 2006 when Jake Finkbonner of Washington state was cured of flesh-eating disease within six weeks of his family placing a Tekakwitha relic and a prayer card on his pillow when doctors gave him no hope for recovery.
The boy, now 11, was expected to be in Rome today for the ceremony.
Pope Pius XII declared Kateri venerable in 1943, and she was beatified by Pope John Paul II almost 35 years ago.
Alma Ransom was among the 55 North Country faithful who witnessed the beatification in 1980.
The delegation was told during a private audience later that day with Pope John Paul that “we’ll see the canonization within a short while.
“But that was 30-some years ago,” Ransom laughed. “But we all operate in God’s time.”
Half of the elders who witnessed the beatification have died, and many others were willing to return to The Eternal City today for the canonization but were too frail to make the trip.
“We are the elders now,” she said. “I am just thankful I’ve survived and am able to go.”
PART OF HISTORY
A former chief with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, Ransom was accompanied to Rome by her husband, Orlo.
She was also among nine members of an Akwesasne women’s choir to sing two hymns at a canonization.
Choir members will be dressed in flowing purple robes with white accents, which were handmade by Sandy Jackson.
The collar of each robe was sewn to resemble the Hiawatha belt, which symbolizes the Iroquois Confederacy. As well, each outfit was adorned with a white lily on the skirt and a purple lily on a beaded, white collar-like overlay to honor Tekakwitha.
The choir, under the direction of Bernice Lazore and rehearsal assistants Minerva White and Judy Hampton, will also perform today at a Thanksgiving event at St. John Lateran Basilica.
Retired Mohawk language teacher Louise Cook did one of the readings in Mohawk, and several other community members contributed their artistry and talents to the historic day.
Mohawk basket maker Sheila Ransom made a sweet-grass basket selected for the pope by Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, the papal representative of Canada.
And Abraham Gray used splint wood from black ash logs to create delicate lilies, which were dyed various colors and arranged into a long-stemmed bouquet by Irene Cook of Cook’s Greenery and Floral Impressions.
The flowers were carried during the gift-giving procession to the pope.
A pen-and-ink drawing by Mohawk artist Jordan Thompson was presented to the pope, and a prayer celebrating Tekakwitha’s long-awaited sainthood was written by Harold Caldwell of Akwesasne.
And the Akwesasne Convenience Store Association donated funds to help seniors 65 and older to cover the cost of their meal, international taxes and other minor trip expenses.
“People are just giving,” Ransom said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, not an annual thing. We’re very pleased, and we’re very happy.
“These gifts are important because this proves we are descendants of Kateri,” she said.
“We still have the same language, and we still have the same basket making, and we still have the same sweet grass, just like she did 400 years ago.”
Ransom said witnessing the canonization is the culmination of decades of work to raise awareness about Tekakwitha, the Mohawk culture and its people.
“My husband and I have worked hard for this. I’ve been speaking at conferences and wherever I can so people hear and so Kateri Tekakwitha is not forgotten.”
Articles Ransom wrote for Indian Country Today explain that Tekakwitha was a proud Mohawk raised in the traditions of her people and taught the significance of cooking, hunting, gathering, traditional ceremonies and use of natural medicines for healing.
“Foremost in our ceremonies is thanksgiving to the Creator for all that he gave us to sustain us,” Ransom wrote. “Tekakwitha knew and loved the Creator, whose name, at the age of 20, Tekakwitha, for herself, changed to Jesus Christ.
“To Tekakwitha, Jesus made sense,” she wrote. “Many generations of elders prayed for Kateri Tekakwitha to become a saint because she had done many cures for them.
“From the day of her death, she has been a saint to the Mohawk. She has always been a holy person, an example to those who she lived amongst and to us who know her today.
“As Mohawk Christians, we have had devotion to Tekakwitha all our lives and gave thanks for the Creator for allowing our sister to intervene for us.”
Email Denise A. Raymo:
firstname.lastname@example.orgCANONIZATIONS The six other saints canonized today were: Jacques Berthieu, French martyr and Jesuit priest; Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino lay catechist and martyr; Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest and founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth and of the Congregation of the Humble Sister Servants of the Lord; Maria del Carmen of Spain, who founded Conceptionist Missionary Sisters of Teaching; German Maria Anna Cope of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Syracuse; and Anna Schaffer, a German laywoman.