.- Canadians from the country’s First Nations and those of European descent took an important step toward reconciliation when they gathered Nov. 4 at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal to give thanks for the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
“I think the grace of the canonization for the natives, as well as for the other people in Canada, is a grace of reconciliation,” Bishop Lionel Gendron of the Diocese of Saint Jean-Longueuil told CNA on Nov. 7.
Bishop Gendron was the main celebrant and homilist for the Mass that drew 2,500 people to the Oratory, and he was “impressed by the presence of the native people from all over Canada.”
“I thought the participation would be mainly from the Mohawk nation,” he said, “but I've seen people coming from British Columbia, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia.”
Several more Canadian bishops concelebrated the Mass, among them were Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau; Archbishop Christian Lepine of Montreal; Bishop Jacques Berthelet, emeritus of Saint Jean-Longueuil; and Bishop Louis Dicaire, auxiliary of Saint Jean-Longueuil.
In addition, representatives from the First Nations of Canada, the Canadian Catholic Aboriginal Council, and Kahnawake – the Canadian community where St. Kateri settled – participated in the Mass.
“As with Saint Kateri, let us be guided in all events by the Spirit … so that our lives may become a love story with Jesus,” Bishop Gendron said in his homily.
Bishop Gendron said the canonization was an important step in the process of reconciliation between the First Nations of Canada and Canadians of European descent.
“I would say that we've been on a path of curing the past, and trying to walk towards reconciliation. And often, I would say many Canadians, or Quebecers, or the people of the diocese here are not quite aware of that. And I would say the Natives are very sensitive to these questions.”
“My impression, in all I've seen in the last weeks, is that we are becoming more aware that we have something to do. We have to walk towards one another and to walk together towards reconciliation.”
St. Kateri was canonized Oct. 21 by Pope Benedict at St. Peter's Square, along with six other people. Some 1,500 Canadian pilgrims traveled to Rome for the Mass of canonization.
St. Kateri 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, St. Kateri was baptized, despite objections from her family. Her conversion caused her tribe to disown her, so St. Kateri fled to Canada, where she devoted herself to prayer and the Blessed Sacrament.
She died in 1680 at Kahnawake, a Mohawk settlement south of Montreal. She died saying “Jesus, I love you.” After she passed away, her face was healed of its pockmarks. Her relics are located in a shrine at Kahnawake.
“Her face became radiant, and often it has been interpreted as her face would have found its original beauty. I think we Canadians and Quebecers, and also the First Nations, we all come with scars,” Bishop Gendron reflected.
“I think that in the love of Jesus, as St. Kateri was, and through the intercession of Kateri, these scars may be cured. So this is my hope in these days, and I'm trying as bishop of Saint Jean-Longueuil to share this hope with my people, with the Mohawks here in the diocese, as well as those who do not belong to the First Nations.”