Bl. Kateri's canonization a sign of hope for Native American Catholics
By Benjamin Mann
Bishop Robert D. Gruss
Bishop Robert D. Gruss

.- South Dakota's Native American Catholics are looking toward Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's canonization for hope amid social and economic troubles, according to Bishop Robert D. Gruss of Rapid City.

“I think this canonization of Blessed Kateri will be a great inspiration, and give them hope in their lives,” Bishop Gruss told CNA on March 9, during the last days of his “ad limina” visit to Rome with other bishops from his state as well as Minnesota and North Dakota.

“It's the first Native American woman to be canonized as a saint, so she will really be a symbol for them. And that's our hope: that in the midst of all of that, it will inspire them, and allow them to be drawn deeper into their own faith.”

Bishop Gruss and his fellow bishops met with Pope Benedict XVI and Vatican officials during the traditional trip to Rome, offering them an update on the state of their local churches over the past five years.

“When I spoke with the Holy Father, I shared with him the challenges that the Native American people on the reservations in western South Dakota have,” said Bishop Gruss, who became the Bishop of Rapid City in July 2011.

During their meeting, he asked the Pope to pray for the faithful living on the reservations.

“They're located in five of the poorest counties in the United States, with a lot of drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and crime. The suicide rate, especially among young people, is far above the national average.”

Bishop Gruss sees a “vibrant spirit” among those Native American Catholics who practice their faith. He noted that the Church allows them to incorporate parts of their own indigenous culture and spiritual heritage that are compatible with Catholic doctrine.

“What we try to do is bring the Gospel to them, on the reservation, and try to help them in any way that we can. I spoke with the Holy Father about programs that are being offered to help them with the challenges that they have – but still, the challenges remain.”

“They've been dealing with these challenges for many years. But with the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, in October, they're very excited about that.”

In December 2011, Pope Benedict formally approved the canonization of the 17th-century Native American woman, who converted to Catholicism at age 18 and lived a remarkable life of prayer and penance before her death at age 24. The Pope will declare Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha a saint on Oct. 21.

Bishop Gruss said the future saint's faithful perseverance would be a model for Native American Catholics, and all believers.

“She began to embrace the Catholic faith, and it was a real hardship for her. Her parents and family rejected her, her tribe rejected her. So in the midst of her challenges and rejection, she stayed true to the faith and her love for Jesus Christ.”

“I think that, in and of itself, will bring the Lakota People of South Dakota hope.”

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April 23, 2014

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