Lily of the Mohawks

I received this in an Email this morning... from Molly and Canada West

Undated reproduction of a 17th century painting of Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who has become a religious icon for thousands of native people across North America. Tekakwitha is on the cusp of achieving sainthood as the Vatican reviews documentation received last month of a recent miracle she is believed to have performed more than 300 years after her death.

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.

The Vatican has been receiving requests to canonize Kateri for more than a hundred years. The first recorded instance came in the 1880s when Jesuit missionaries delivered a petition on behalf of Mohawks to the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. The petition was sent to Pope Leo XIII by the Archbishop of Baltimore, according to Lenz.

It's unclear what became of the request.

Another petition reached the Vatican in 1939, which led to Kateri being declared Venerable in 1942, a first step toward canonization.

The Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions then took up the cause in the late 1970s and in 1980 she was beatified by Pope John Paul II, the final stage before sainthood.

To be declared a saint, a miracle must be attributed to the candidate after they've been beatified.

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 A Lily Among Thorns, The Mohawk Repatriation of Kateri Tekahkwitha.

Kateri's last name has several spellings.

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.

Some Catholic converts there would cut a hole in the ice and stand up to their necks reciting the rosary, while others would walk barefoot through snow drifts or wear a leather belt with metal studs on the inside that dug into the skin.

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

"There is one especially who is small and lame, who is the most fervent, I believe, of all the village," wrote Father Pierre Cholenec in February 1680, according to Bonaparte's research.

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.

"There were whispers in New France that a saint had been among them," Bonaparte wrote.

While Kateri's name and story have travelled the world, she embodies a specific place and time in Mohawk history, when their society was splintering under the stress of war, disease and alcohol, among other factors, said Bonaparte.

"The whole thing crystallizes with what she went through," said Bonaparte, a Mohawk who runs an online historical archive on his website www.wampumchronicles.com.



Matterhorn said...

I was just thinking of Kateri yesterday- thank you! I first read about her story as a child and it has always stayed with me.

Brantigny said...

Thanks! your comments are always welcome.