Sunday, October 21, 2012

First Native American Saint - Kateri Tekakwitha

Kateri Tekakwitha will no longer be referred to just her name, nor by the term "Blessed". From today on she will be known as Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.

The Catholic Church does not dish out Canonization willy-nilly. There is a specific procedure by which claims of a miracle attributed to a particular not-yet Beatified or Beatified individual are investigated prior to their acceptance by the Church.

The Catholic Church gets hits both ways when a miracle is considered. One side will beat up the Church for believing in them, and others will accuse the Church of being too clinical in subjecting a claim to an investigation.

I strongly believe that those who have passed on and are with God can intercede for those still living. In the Book of Revelation, for one passage, Chapter 5 verse 8 clearly mentions Elders offering incense which is explained as representing the prayers of the saints. In this case, the term Saints seems to be applied in the broadest* sense to mean the believers, but the Elders are also clearly in Heaven and are praying interceding for others. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, normally preferring to avoid the effort of assigning a new meaning to such verses, will generally ignore them.

 If (Only for the sake of argument), we do not consider one's faith but only look at the facts as they can be viewed by an impartial person, far too many accounts of inexplicable healings and recoveries confront us to deny them. The radically irreligious seem bent on dismissing these accounts outright rather than dropping their guard for even a few minutes.

When multiple physicians, for one example, throw up their hands and state that they can find no explanation at all for a healing, and others refuse to even consider the possibility of a miracle, my stomach turns over. This due to both their knee-jerk reaction to anything related to faith and to their basic lack of intellectual curiosity.

I am also happy that Native American, many of whom have gone quite far back to their pre-Christian beliefs, now have one of their own among the list of Saints recognized by the Church.

-May she be the first of many.

*The Greek word Ecclesia, meaning Church, also has several meanings  The context in which the word is most commonly used is for indicating the Church as an organized body.

"Jake Finkbonner was so close to death after flesh-eating bacteria infected him through a cut on his lip that his parents had last rites performed and were discussing donating the 5-year-old's tiny organs.

Jake's 2006 cure from the infection was deemed medically inexplicable by the Vatican, the "miracle" needed to propel a 17th century Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, on to sainthood. Kateri will be canonized on Sunday along with six other people, the first Native American to receive the honor.

Jake is fully convinced, as is the church, that the prayers his family and community offered to Kateri, including the placement of a relic of the soon-to-be saint on Jake's leg, were responsible for his survival.

Jake, now 12 and an avid basketball player and cross-country runner, will be present at the canonization, along with hundreds of members of his own Lummi tribe from northwest Washington state and reservations across the U.S. and Canada who have converged on Rome to honor one of their own. It's a ceremony the Catholic Church hopes will encourage Native Americans to keep to their Christian faith amid continued resentment among some that Catholicism was imposed on them by colonial-era missionaries centuries ago.

"I believe everybody has a purpose on this earth," Jake's mother Elsa Finkbonner said this week soon after the family arrived in Rome for the ceremony. "I think this Sunday Jake will define his purpose, and that's to make Kateri a saint."

Jake, a poised, lanky kid who just got his braces off, seems perfectly at ease with his role in the whole thing, gracious and grateful to the doctors who performed 29 surgeries to save his life and reconstruct his face.

"It's a really special thing," Jake told The Associated Press, flanked by his parents on a hotel terrace sofa. "We've never been to Rome, and especially meeting the pope? It'll be an experience of a lifetime."

Besides Kateri, Pope Benedict XVI will declare another American a saint Sunday, Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun from Utica, New York -- near where Kateri lived two centuries earlier -- who cared for lepers exiled to Hawaii's Kalaupapa Peninsula. Another new saint is Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenager who was killed in 1672 along with his Jesuit missionary priest by natives resisting their conversion efforts.

The Catholic Church creates saints to hold up models for the faithful, convinced that their lives -- even lived hundreds of years ago -- are still relevant to today's Catholics. The complicated saint-making procedure requires that the Vatican certify a "miracle" was performed through the intercession of the candidate -- a medically inexplicable cure that can be directly linked to the prayers offered by the faithful. One miracle is needed for beatification, a second for canonization.

In Jake's case, Kateri was already an important figure for Catholics in the Lummi tribe, of which his father Donny is a member. A carved wooden statue sits in the church on the Lummi reservation near Bellingham, Washington, 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of the Canadian border, where Jake's grandparents worshipped and where Donny remembers being told of Kateri's story as a child.

Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother in what is today upstate New York. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her badly scarred and with impaired eyesight. She went to live with her uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized Catholic by Jesuit missionaries. But she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in Canada when she was 24....."

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