On Sunday, October 21, Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American woman was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church along with seven other individuals, including one other American.
According to the Catholic News website, Tekakwitha’s father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Christian Algonquin. Her parents and only brother died when she was four 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 was not accepted by her people for faith. She moved to Canada where she died at the age of 24.
Jake Finkbonner, a 12-year-old boy from the Lummi Nation in Washington state, was chosen to receive Communion from the pope during the ceremony. He made a miraculous recovery from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria, the Vatican determined Finkbonner was cured through Tekakwitha’s intercession, after his family and community prayed to “Blessed Kateri” which led to her canonization.
According to reports online, close to 80,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square to hear Pope Benedict XVI conduct the ceremony.
Among them, were 13 Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members from St. Francis of Assisi Church raised money through food sales to travel to Italy to witness the event at the Vatican in Rome. Among those who went were Danny Harvier, Marian Ruiz, Samia Hernandez, Courtney Moyah, Esther Moyah, Cheryl Harvier-King, Roselyn Norris, Angela Correa, Christine Ray, Herman Ray, Jr., Theresa Antone, Christina Antone and Carmen Easchief.
All endured the 14-hour flight to Rome, the first time for almost all of them overseas. The group planned for a weeklong trip, with two days of travel time.
“It was a long flight,” said Danny Harvier. “We left Arizona in the morning, got to the East Coast in the evening, and arrived to Rome the next day in the morning. Time went by due to the time-zone change.”
Their first major event was witnessing the canonization of the saints. During the canonization, Pope Benedict read descriptions of each saint.
“He [the Pope] talked in all the languages. When he said it in English, I couldn’t hear it that well, but he read the book that had all the information about each saint,” said Hernandez. “When I sat there and realized [Tekakwitha had] become a saint, I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to cry in front of anyone. I know my tears were starting to come out.”
Marion Ruiz felt the same way. “I was following along in the book when [the Pope] was reading. After he finished, I was trying to dry my eyes with my vial, but I was pretending the light was in my eyes,” said Ruiz. “Even when we came back home, I was still choked up hearing a song during our church services when they changed the verse where it said ‘Blessed Kateri’ to ‘Saint Kateri.’ When I heard that, I choked up.”
“Since I was a little girl [the members of the church have] tried to get Kateri to become a saint, and this was the first time they said she was going to be canonized,” said Cheryl Harvier-King. “So we jumped on the wagon, me and my dad (Danny Harvier), because we wanted her to be a saint for so long and it finally happened. Now we have someone to pray to as a Native American, besides the other saints that we have.”
The group also enjoyed tours of churches and other landmarks in Rome during their trip.
“When people would ask me what it was like going there, sometimes you see the beauty when you see the pictures, and other times you see something and it would touch you emotionally,” said Esther Moyah. “So I think it touched all of us, but at different times.”