Proud Native Americans Cheer First First Nations Saint

by
staff
Every time the Pope mentioned Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, applause rang out from the emotional crowd watching the canonization ceremony broadcast from the Vatican.

Candles are lit for Kateri Tekakwitha as her devotion is celebrated by the Catholic faithful in Kahnawake, Quebec

KAHNAWAKE, Canada — Every time the Pope mentioned Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint, applause rang out from the emotional crowd watching the canonization ceremony broadcast from the Vatican.

A few hundred people gathered from near and far at the Mohawk reservation near Montreal where Tekakwitha, the "Lily of the Mohawks" -- for centuries a symbol of hope for the long-oppressed American Indians -- died more than four hundred years ago.

They took in the ceremony, projected onto a large screen, reverently, as if they were sitting in Saint Peter's Square, instead of in a gymnasium adorned with basketball hoops. The gym is across from Tekakwitha's shrine, too small to hold the proud crowd.

One group of about thirty drove more than 160 miles (268 kilometers) from the Atikamekw de Manawan reservation to join in the celebration.

"This canonization gives us a lot of new strength," said Emile Moar, pleased with himself for having driven the school bus carrying the pilgrims.

Father Jonathan Kalisch came from the United States with a group of Native American students from Dartmouth College, in the northeastern US state of New Hampshire, where he teaches.

"For the First Nations it is not only a great honor. Now for the first time, someone born here is held up as example for all of us to follow," he said.

"She's a model for us in 21st century to begin to follow Christ again."

Following the Vatican ceremony, a bishop celebrated mass at the reservation and then the faithful processed to the new saint's tomb, inside the church.

Tekakwitha, was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, was converted by Jesuit missionaries as a child. After being left scarred and partially blind from smallpox and being orphaned, "Lily of the Mohawks" earned a following for her deep spirituality before dying at just 24.

Tradition holds that her scars vanished at the time of her death -- considered a miracle that paved the way for her beatification in 1943. Sainthood was assured when the pope certified a second miracle last year, the recovery of an 11-year-old Native American boy from flesh-eating bacteria after his parents prayed for divine intervention through Tekakwitha in 2006.