Vatican to canonize first Native American saint

Recommended by Alicia Purdy

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, July 26 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

Our take: The Vatican has scheduled a canonization ceremony for a Mohawk woman named Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be canonized as a saint. Tekakwitha was born into the same village where a group of French Jesuits were tortured and killed by the Mohawk people in the 1600s, bringing tensions between the Catholic Church and American Indians. Tekakwitha was credited with converting to Catholicism despite clan protests and living a simple life of poverty and servanthood.

The last time the Vatican canonized saints from along this stretch of the Mohawk River, it was 1930, and more than 35,000 Catholic pilgrims came to mark the occasion. The Jesuits here constructed a coliseum-size church to hold the crowds, and placed wooden statues of the new saints at the peaks of its stockadelike altar.

Those saints, three of them, were French Jesuits, tortured and murdered in the 17th century by the Mohawk Indians they were seeking to convert, according to the church. But in a twist of history, this October the Vatican will canonize a fourth saint from the Mohawk Valley: Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman born in 1656, a decade after the missionaries were killed in her village.

This time around, the reaction is more complex, particularly among American Indians. Some are proud, because Kateri was a Mohawk. Some doubt the truthfulness of her story as told by the church. Some hope the canonization will ease tensions between Catholic and traditional American Indians. And some are euphoric that the church is about to name its first American Indian saint, even if they wish it had happened sooner.

Read more about the first Native American saint on The New York Times.

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