Tag Archives: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

Native peoples and the church

In the US and Canada, today is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), In Perú and other parts of South America, and among the Franciscans, today is the feast of Saint Francisco Solano ((1549–1610).

Kateri, Lily of the Mohawks, was the daughter of a Mohawk pagan chief and an Algonquin Christian, who after becoming a Catholic left her village in what is now Auriesville, NY, and went to live in a Catholic village near Montreal, Canada. There she lived out her short life. She had hoped to found a convent, but was not permitted. Having made a public vow of chastity, she died young. She is a sign of the openness of the native peoples to Christ and the Church – but she also suffered from the misunderstanding of her native peoples who could not comprehend her refusal to marry and from the Church that was not open to her desire to further religious life among the native peoples.

Fray Francisco, after several years of positions of authority in his Franciscan order in his native Spain, went to South America and spent about twenty years among the peoples of Perú and Tucuman (in parts of Argentina and Paraguay). There he approached the native peoples with respect, often announcing his arrival playing his violin. He was transferred to Lima where he found disfavor among his superiors for his strong words against corruption and injustice.

These two very different saints remind me of the importance of a Church that is missionary but which respects the peoples and their cultures and recognizes the dignity of all people.

In the history of the Church there are many examples of a colonialism at the heart of some missionary activity which resulted in massacres of native peoples and destruction of native cultures. There is also the witness of people like the Dominican bishop Fray Bartolomé de las Casas who spoke out strongly against colonialism and slavery and other efforts to undermine the dignity of the native peoples.

And so today it is beneficial to meditate on the words of Pope Francis in 2015, speaking in Bolivia at the World Meeting of Popular Movements:

I say this to you with regret: many grave sins were committed against the native peoples of America in the name of God. My predecessors acknowledged this, CELAM has said it, and I too wish to say it. Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the Church “kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters”. I would also say, and here I wish to be quite clear, as was Saint John Paul II: I humbly ask forgiveness, not only for the offenses of the Church herself, but also for crimes committed against the native peoples during the so- called conquest of America.
I also ask everyone, believers and nonbelievers alike, to think of those many bishops, priests and laity who preached and continue to preach the Good News of Jesus with courage and meekness, respectfully and pacifically; who left behind them impressive works of human promotion and of love, often standing alongside the native peoples or accompanying their popular movements even to the point of martyrdom. The Church, her sons and daughters, are part of the identity of the peoples of Latin America. An identity which here, as in other countries, some powers are committed to erasing, at times because our faith is revolutionary, because our faith challenges the tyranny of mammon.

American saints among us

It’s often so easy to think of the saints as people who were not like us – popes, bishops, nuns, founders of religious orders, martyrs in foreign lands.

This weekend the Catholic calendar of saints recalls three  people who lived in the Americas.

Today is the feast of St. Teresa de las Andes, who died a Carmelite nun at the age of twenty on April 12, 1920. Her feast is celebrated in her native Chile today, her birthday.

She was raised in a well-to-do family in Santiago, Chile. Inspired by the Carmelite saint Thérèse of Lisieux (the Little Flower), she entered a very poor Carmelite convent in Los Andes at the age of nineteen, offering her life for the sanctification of priests and the repentance of sinners. She also wrote many letters on the spiritual life. She died of typhus.

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, “the Lily of the Mohawks,” who died at the age of twenty-three on April 17, 1680, in a Christian mission near Montreal.

She was born near what is now Auriesville, New York, and orphaned at the age of four, due to a smallpox epidemic. She was nicknamed Teakakwitha – “The one who walks groping the way” – because her vision was affected by smallpox.

She was baptized in her native village when she was about twenty. But because of her conversion and desire to remain a virgin, she fled. At the mission she lived a holy life and even proposed founding a convent. The priests dismissed the idea, supposing that Native Americans were unsuited for religious life. In 1679, a year before her death, she made a public vow of chastity.

Kateri is the first native American saint.

Today is also the feast of a much lesser know holy person, Blessed Carlos (Charlie) Rodriguez, of Puerto Rico, who died fifty years ago today, on July 13, 1963, at the age of forty-four.

He is known for his devotion to the liturgy and his efforts to encourage active participation in the liturgy, particularly intent on making the celebration of the Easter Vigil central to the life of faith. “We live for this night,” he said.

He studied at the university, though debilitated by a disease (ulcerative colitis) that eventually led to his death.

He worked for many years at the Catholic University Center in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, among other ministries founding a group to promote the liturgy.

He died before the Second Vatican Council promulgated The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Yet he was one of those who promoted the reforms that led up to this important document.

He is the first Puerto Rican to be declared blessed and the first layperson in the Caribbean and in the United States to be beatified.

He once wrote:

We need Catholics who are alert to the present moment, …modern Catholics who know how to nourish themselves in the past but whose eyes are fixed on the future.

The Americas have been blessed by the presence of people like Teresa, Kateri, and Charlie. But there are saints all around us. Look for them, get to know them, and live as if you too are called to be a saint. We are so called.