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 CNS Story:

KATERI-REACT Dec-20-2011 (940 words) With graphic and photos posted Dec. 19. xxxn

'Exuberant jubilation' greets news Blessed Kateri to be canonized

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The announcement of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's impending canonization "is the news we've been waiting for shortly after her beatification," said Sister Kateri Mitchell about her namesake.

The waiting, though, has taken a long time. Blessed Kateri was beatified in 1980.

Regarding her reaction to the news Dec. 19 from the Vatican that a second miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri has been recognized, "I guess the word is overwhelming and also just exuberant with jubilation," said Sister Kateri, laughing.

A Sister of St. Ann, Sister Kateri said she was "blessed" with receiving the name Kateri when she entered religious life in 1959.

Sister Kateri has been executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference National Center in Great Falls, Mont., for the past 14 years and has been affiliated with the center since the 1970s. At the center, joy was the reigning emotion as calls and emails came in.

"We've had a call from a bishop, who's very excited, and an email from another bishop who's very excited. Also some of our members received the news in email ... and they're responding with such joy it's unbelievable," she told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview.

A member of the Mohawk Nation as was Blessed Kateri, Sister Kateri (pronounced CAT-tery) was raised on the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk International Reservation, which stretches from New York into Canada. She said her parents had a devotion to Kateri Tekakwitha and would frequently make what for them was a 200-mile trip to Blessed Kateri's birthplace and the town where she was raised.

Blessed Kateri was born in 1656 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. A smallpox epidemic left her orphaned at age 4, and she was raised by her relatives. But after she was baptized at age 20, against the wishes of family members and many in her clan, Kateri fled to Canada, taking refuge at St. Francis Xavier Mission in the Mohawk Nation at Caughnawaga, not too far from Montreal.

The name Kateri is the Mohawk equivalent of Katherine, said Sister Kateri. "Even as a little girl I was very familiar with her."

"As Native American Catholics, I think this just brings such great joy and gratitude to our model" of faith, she added.

"The people that I've met from other cultures and countries would say, 'You Native Americans or indigenous of America need a saint of your own.' I'd say, 'I totally agree with you, and please pray with us.'"

Sister Kateri said, "I consider it one of the greatest gifts anyone could receive for Christmas."

"It's certainly a wonderful day to get this message," Msgr. Paul Lenz, U.S. vice postulator of Blessed Kateri's cause, told CNS Dec. 19.

Msgr. Lenz has served as a vice postulator for the past five years, assisting a Jesuit priest, Father Tom Pare, for two years until Father Pare died. Msgr. Lenz had been executive director of the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington for 32 years prior to his retirement from active ministry and coordinated all of the events surrounding Blessed Kateri's beatification in 1980.

He said that he will coordinate the liturgies surrounding the impending canonization, while his successor at the Black and Indian Mission Office, Father Wayne Paysse, will be in charge of the pilgrimages to Rome for canonization ceremonies. The mission office is an umbrella organization several entities including the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Msgr. Lenz said the Vatican investigation into the now-authenticated miracle was "a very, very effective tribunal."

In Canada, the canonization of an aboriginal woman will be the answer to a prayer for all native peoples.

"There's a natural sense of pride and joy," among native people, said Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse.

On hearing that Blessed Kateri will be canonized, perhaps as early as spring 2012, Bishop Gordon planned to phone his old friend Steve Point, the lieutenant governor of British Columbia. Point is a former elected chief of the Skowkale First Nation.

"I'm gonna say to him, 'Steve, we've got to go to Rome!'" the bishop told The Catholic Register in Toronto.

"Awesome!" was the word from Grace Esquega, director of the Kitchitwa Kateri, a church for aboriginal Catholics in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Esquega repeated the word several times when Father Larry Croker called to give her the news.

"There have been prayer circles. People have been in touch with the devotion for years. There will just be great joy over it, finally after all this time," said Croker.

In northwestern Ontario, native rendezvous weekends and music ministries have been organized around devotion to Blessed Kateri since the 1970s.

At the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, where a couple of statues of Blessed Kateri are popular, manager John Zurakowski predicted the annual First Nations' pilgrimage will attract new participants.

"The First Nations pilgrimage will grow because now it's one of their own elevated to sainthood," Zurakowski said.

On missions across Canada, the beatification will demonstrate that the Catholic Church is truly with the people, said Father Philip Kennedy, president of the organization Catholic Missions in Canada.

"In the minds of the First Nations people, she's already a saint," said Father Kennedy. "She's already someone to whom they can appeal for sympathy with their troubles, for help with discrimination. She's gone through what they are going through."

Kateri is significant not only for aboriginal Catholics but also for native Lutherans and Anglicans, said Kennedy. Her status as a role model of spiritual life also crosses borders.

"When I went to a mission conference in Guatemala they had a huge picture of her, like a three-storey-high picture," Father Kennedy said.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Michael Swan in Toronto.


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