How appropriate that when many North Americans seem to have forgotten that at one time, we were all immigrants to this land, we celebrate a Native American canonized in 2012, Kateri Tekakwitha. Seventeenth century French explorers came expecting savages. Instead, they found saints. Jesuit missionaries to the Mohawk community were impressed by their works of mercy to the orphaned, aged and weak. One priest painted Christian scenes on linen; another who knew the native language translated Christian songs, which the people loved. Kateri was especially drawn to the beauty of the Christmas crib, surrounded by fir boughs, and asked for baptism.
Kateri’s parents and little brother had been killed in the small pox epidemic of 1660, which left her pock-marked and half-blind. Despite her own precarious health, she nursed the sick and dying with remarkable cheerfulness. Her joy became so contagious that children were drawn to her for storytelling. (I’ve always thought the acid test of holiness is, “do people want to hang out with you?”) Her synthesis of Mohawk and Christian spiritualities reconciled the terrible hostilities between the native-born and the colonizers.
Furthermore, Kateri is patron saint of the environment, which is being so recklessly destroyed now. She had always loved the beauty of nature; this pull took on a new intensity as she learned more about the Creator. She often contemplated in green forests, watching the light rippling on leaves, or the snow mantling pines. How appalled she would be by offshore drilling or the wanton disregard for public lands.
How we need her help now!
For more about North American saints, see When the Saints Came Marching In by Kathy Coffey, Liturgical Press, www.litpress.org, 800-858-5450.