Tekakwitha Conference to gather for first time since canonization

statue of Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St Francis in Santa Fe NM Credit Jim McIntosh CC BY 20 CNA US Catholic News 1 19 12 Statue of Kateri Tekakwitha in front of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe, NM. | Jim McIntosh (CC BY 2.0).

The 74th annual Tekakwitha Conference will mark an important event in Church history as it holds its first gathering since the canonization of the "Lily of the Mohawks" last October.

Though the conference this summer will follow a similar format to past ones, Sr. Kateri Mitchell, executive director of the conference, said this year will "center around the excitement and celebration" of the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint.

Each year, the Tekakwitha Conference gathers for its national meeting to further its mission of "evangelization and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ" among Native American communities and the world.

The event, which is held in a different city each year, could see as many as 1,000 participants from all over the United States.

Despite the "economic situation" and "all kinds of hardships" people are facing, Sr. Kateri said she expects a larger turnout than usual given that this will be the first gathering since the saint's canonization in Rome on Oct. 22, 2012.

There is "a great excitement similar to our spirit that many experienced in Rome for the canonization," Sr. Kateri said.

The conference aims to nurture the spirituality of St. Kateri, which is one of "deep prayer" and evangelization.

To that end, it will provide talks on Catholic theology and native spirituality in addition to wellness workshops.

The Tekakwitha Conference was originally founded in order to help Indigenous Catholics "reinforce Catholic identity" while at the same time affirming "pride in our cultures and spiritual traditions" which are "special gifts" to the Church.

This year's theme is "Celebrating Faith, Culture and Tradition," and will be held in El Paso, Texas from July 17-21.

The conference hopes to "strengthen" and "continue" the spirituality of St. Kateri, whom "we consider the first evangelizer to her people," Sr. Kateri said.

"If we are to be followers of Christ and try to follow or walk in our patroness' footsteps," she explained, "then we will not be exempt from suffering."

Rather, she said they should aim to "have the strength and the ability to move beyond and continue the work of Christ to go out and share the good news to all people, to the whole world."

The event is all ages and family oriented, Sr. Kateri emphasized, saying that age groups represented each year range from infants to "elders in their 90s."

"We take people of all age groups," she said, "we feel very strongly about that."

On the final day of the conference, participants will travel to the nearby Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Reservation for a meal, closing liturgy and procession of the traveling Kateri image, statue and relic that will be handed over to the 2014 planning committee.

Next year's conference, which will be the 75th annual gathering, will be held in Fargo, North Dakota.

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