The canonization of any saint is always a celebration for the Roman Catholic Church, but the coming recognition of Kateri Tekakwitha in Vatican City Sunday is especially significant for Native Americans and our area.
It will mark the first time a Native American has been canonized a saint and the first local native. Kateri was born a Mohawk at Ossernenon, present-day Auriesville, and she lived much of her life at Caughnawaga, now called Fonda.
She lived a simple life as an Indian maiden. Sometime after being baptized a Catholic on Easter in 1676, she made vow of virginity - something foreign to her native culture. Her life was not always an easy one. Her parents and her brother died of smallpox. She survived, but was left scarred and visually impaired. Some Mohawks opposed her conversion, accusing her of sorcery and sexual promiscuity, so she trekked for safe haven to the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, Canada. And she wasn't easy on herself in practicing acts of penance, sacrifice and prayer, especially for the conversion of other Indians.
The process that leads to canonization, which is a formal recognition of heroic virtue, can be long and arduous, with intense scrutiny of candidates by the church and validation by miracles that reportedly have no medical explanation. St. Anthony of Padua, a popular Italian saint, was canonized within nine months of his death, but that is not typical.
Of the millions of Catholics who have lived since the time of Christ, relatively few have been recognized officially as saints. All Saints Day on Nov. 1 each year celebrates all the souls in heaven, including all those who have gone unrecognized for quiet but heroic lives.
Except for the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom the church claims lived a sinless life, no saint is considered flawless, and some overcame great sinfulness - which is a consolation to faithful Christians who are well aware of their own weaknesses.
What stands out in people such as Kateri who are recognized for heroic, God-centered lives is that love for Jesus and the hope of being with him in heaven were the core and focus of their being. They took very seriously the commitment Jesus spoke of in Matthew 13:44: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
Kateri's last dying whisper was said to be "Jesus, I love you."