Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press
VATICAN CITY — Pope Benedict XVI added seven more saints onto the roster of Catholic role models on Sunday, saying their example would strengthen the church it tries to rekindle the faith in places where it's lagging. Two of them were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from the U.S. and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.
Native Americans in beaded and feathered headdresses and leather-fringed tunics sang songs to Kateri as the sun rose over St. Peter's Square ahead of the Mass. Also taking part was Sharon Smith, whose cure from complications from pancreatitis was deemed a "miracle" by the Vatican, paving the way for Mother Marianne to be canonized.
In his homily, Benedict praised each of the seven new saints as examples for the entire church, calling Cope a "shining" example for Catholics and Kateri an inspiration to indigenous faithful across North America.
"With heroic courage they spent their lives in total consecration to the Lord and in the generous service of their brethren," he said.
Pilgrims from around the world attended the Mass, which started with the head of the Vatican's saint-making office reading aloud each of the names of the seven new saints in Latin, drawing cheers from the crowd.
"It's so nice to see God showing all the flavors of the world," marveled Gene Caldwell, a Native American member of the Menominee reservation in Neopit, Wisconsin who attended with his wife, Linda. "The Native Americans are enthralled" to have Kateri canonized, he said.
Cheers rose up again when Benedict, speaking in Latin, declared each of the seven saints and worthy of veneration by the entire church.
"It's amazing!" said Sheila Austin, a nurse who traveled with pilgrims from Syracuse, New York, for Mother Marianne's canonization. "There have been people working for many years so that today would come about."
The canonization coincided with a Vatican meeting of the world's bishops on trying to revive Christianity in places where it's fallen by the wayside. Several of the new saints were missionaries, making clear the pope hopes their example will be relevant today as the Catholic Church tries to hold onto its faithful in the face of competition from evangelical churches in Africa and Latin America, increasing secularization in the West and disenchantment with the church over the clerical sex abuse scandal in Europe and beyond.
One of the new saints was Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenager who helped Jesuit priests convert natives in Guam in the 17th century but was killed by spear-wielding villagers opposed to the missionaries' efforts to baptize their children.
Rome's sizeable Filipino expat community came out in droves for the Mass, including Marianna Dieza, a 39-year-old housekeeper who said it was a day of pride for all Filipinos. "We are especially proud because he is so young," she said.
The two American saints actually hail from roughly the same place — what is today upstate New York — although they lived two centuries apart.
Known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 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 she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in what is now Canada when she was 24.
Speaking in English and French, in honor of Kateri's Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Kateri's culture for her to choose to devote herself to her Catholic faith.
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