The canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha scheduled for Oct. 21 is a reason for celebration in Montgomery and Fulton counties, and not just for those who have an interest in saints.
Kateri's ascension to sainthood will bring world attention to the National Kateri Tekakwitha Shrine in Fonda and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville. The area can expect to see more people than usual flocking to the shrines this year. This could provide an economic boost to the area as tourists and faithful visit the shrines, stay at local hotels and eat at restaurants.
Kateri, a Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century, is a historic figure in Montgomery County. Christians say Kateri's conversion to Christianity is an inspiration. According to the Fonda shrine, private miracles have been centered around the Blessed Kateri, also known as the Lily of the Mohawks.
Kateri lived her youth in and around the site of the Fonda shrine, where she was baptized in 1676. Kateri was born to a Native American couple in 1656 in what today is Auriesville. Her parents died of smallpox when she was 4, and the disease left Kateri with impaired eyesight and facial scars. At age 18, she began to study the Catholic faith and was baptized.
Scorned by Mohawk villagers because of her conversion, she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada. There, she took a vow of perpetual virginity, taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She died in 1680 at age 23. According to the Fonda shrine's website, witnesses reported that within a few minutes of her death, the pock marks from smallpox vanished.
Faithful have been pushing for Kateri's sainthood for decades. The efforts nearly died until 2006, when a boy with a flesh-eating bacterium in Washington state prayed to Kateri for healing and recovered. Pope Benedict XVI approved this as a miracle, paving the way for Kateri's sainthood.
The Auriesville shrine already is planning events in light of the canonization date. The Kateri Mass will resume for the 2012 season on April 25. On July 14, the shrine will celebrate Kateri's Feast Day with a Mass in the coliseum, followed by a healing service with the Rev. Joseph Whalen. On July 21, the shrine will welcome Native Americans from around the country who will be making a pilgrimage from the Tekakwitha Conference in Albany. The annual Mohawk Mass will take place Sept. 2 at the shrine.
Three hundred thirty-two years after her death, Blessed Kateri is bringing attention to our area.