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Native Americans overjoyed at news of first saint
The statue of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha that stands in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, NM. Credit: Jim McIntosh (CC BY 2.0)
The statue of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha that stands in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, NM. Credit: Jim McIntosh (CC BY 2.0)
By Michelle Bauman

.- The recent announcement that Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha has been approved for sainthood is generating great excitement among the Native American community.

“There’s an awful lot of interest,” said Monsignor Paul A. Lenz, the vice postulator of Bl. Kateri’s cause for sainthood.

Msgr. Lenz told CNA on Jan. 19 that he has seen an “unbelievable response” to the news of the canonization, with reactions pouring in from all over the United States and Canada.

Msgr. Lenz, who previously worked in the Black and Indian Mission Office in Washington, D.C., said that Native Americans are extremely excited about having a saint come from within their own community.

Although the date for the canonization has not yet been announced, he said that multiple groups are already organizing pilgrimages to Rome to be present when the first Native American is officially elevated to sainthood.

When the date for the canonization is made public, Msgr. Lenz believes it will attract lots of attention in both the religious and secular media.

Known as “the Lily of the Mohawks,” Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in upstate New York in 1656. Her father was a Mohawk chief, and her mother was an Algonquin who was raised Catholic.

She was orphaned at age four by a smallpox epidemic that left her with poor eyesight and a badly scarred face.

After encountering several Jesuit priests, Bl. Kateri was baptized, despite objections from her family.

Her conversion caused her tribe to disown her, so Bl. Kateri fled to Canada, where she lived as an outcast, devoted to prayer and the Blessed Sacrament.

She died at age 24. After her death, witnesses said that the scars on her face disappeared, leaving her skin radiantly beautiful.

In 1980, she became the first Native American to be beatified.

On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict XVI formally recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Bl. Tekakwitha, clearing the way for her canonization.

The miracle involved a young boy in Seattle who was unexplicably cured from a flesh-eating bacteria that had disfigured his face and left him near death.

Msgr. Lenz said that the boy, who is of Native American descent, looked “worse than a leper.”

However, he completely recovered after his family prayed and asked Bl. Kateri to intercede with God for him.

Msgr. Lenz explained that Catholic Native Americans have a strong faith and devotion to Bl. Kateri, whom they are familiar with from the Jesuit writings that have been handed down since the time of her death.

In his 35 years of working with Native Americans, Msgr. Lenz has found that they are almost “always a friend” of Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha.

“They’re very proud” of her, he said.

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