Mike Groll, Associated Press
FONDA, N.Y. — No one making a religious pilgrimage to Catholic shrines in this scenic yet hardscrabble stretch of New York's Mohawk Valley is going to mistake it for Italy. Yet starting next year, the region can boast of being the home of two of the Roman Catholic Church's newest saints.
The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian, spent most of her life here during the 17th century. About 200 years later and 40 miles to the west, the Blessed Mother Marianne Cope began a religious life that focused on providing medical care in central New York and the Hawaiian islands.
On Dec. 20, Pope Benedict XVI certified miracles attributed to the two women, the final step toward sainthood. The women's canonization is expected to happen this year.
When they are elevated to sainthood, they'll be among just 12 of the Catholic Church's thousands of saints who either were born in America or ministered in what is now the United States.
Elevation to sainthood for Blessed Kateri, a first for a Native American, is expected to boost visits to a pair of local shrines linked to her life. The National Shrine of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in Fonda and the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in nearby Auriesville are located amid the hilly terrain and faded industrial towns along the Mohawk River Valley that stretches from the Albany area to Utica.
Both shrines had already closed for the winter when word came out of the Vatican that the pope had affirmed the women for canonization. Officials at both sites say they expect bigger crowds next year as a result.
"We've been praying for this for a long time, years and years and years," said Friar Mark Steed, the Kateri shrine's director. "It will mean a bit of work in terms of how we can promote it, how we can present the shrine in a better light."
Spread over 200-plus acres of sloping ground on the river's north bank, the property contains the archaeological site of the Mohawk village where Kateri spent her youth and where she was baptized by French Jesuit missionaries in 1676. The shrine's centerpiece is a 230-year-old barn that doubles as a rustic chapel and museum. Images of Kateri's life decorate the rough-hewn wooden crossbeams in the upstairs chapel where American and Iroquois flags hang side by side.
Blessed Kateri's sainthood could be a big step toward helping to heal centuries of conflict between whites and Native Americans, Friar Mark said.
"That may be her spiritual gift to all of us," he said.
Just downriver on the south bank, officials at the shrine of the North American Martyrs say they're also expecting to see an increase in the tens of thousands of visitors who make pilgrimages each year, some from as far away as Europe and Asia.
Kateri was born in the Mohawk village that sat atop the hill where the Auriesville shrine was founded by the Jesuit order in the late 19th century. A decade before Kateri's birth, Father Isaac Jogues and two fellow Frenchmen were killed in the village by the Mohawks. All three were canonized in 1930, along with five other Jesuit missionaries martyred in Canada in the 1600s.
The Auriesville shrine features a coliseum church that can hold about 10,000 worshippers and a separate chapel dedicated to Kateri, the daughter of an Algonquin mother and Mohawk father. Her parents died of smallpox when she was 4, and the disease left Kateri badly scarred and nearly blind. Later, after enduring scorn from other Mohawks because of her Christian beliefs, she fled to a Jesuit mission near Montreal.
Known for tending to the sick and elderly, Kateri fell ill and died at 24. Her remains are entombed in a marble shrine at St. Francis Xavier Church in Kahnawake, Quebec. Dubbed "the Lily of the Mohawks," her story of devotion and kindness is familiar to many Auriesville visitors, said Beth Lynch, the shrine's event coordinator and museum manger.
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