History has been made now that Pope Benedict XVI has named the first-ever Native American Saint.
Kateri Tekakwitha, of the Mohawk tribe, is said to have devoted her life to God and is being recognized by the Catholic church with the canonization, and a young American boy says prayers in her name helped him recover from a horrific disease.
Jake Finkbonner was just five years old when he contracted a deadly flesh-eating disease which affected his face and put him in the hospital. When the family’s pastor suggested praying in Kateri’s name, the family did so, hoping anything would work. Suddenly, Jake’s symptoms began to clear up, and soon the doctors were at a loss to describe how it had happened. Jake and his family, however, are sure that the newly appointed saint had something to do with it, and were excited to be invited to the celebration in Vatican City for Kateri and five other new saints last week after the Church declared his recovery a miracle.
“I’m pretty darn excited to go,” Jake, now 12-years old, said. “It will be the trip of a lifetime.”
The induction of a Native American into sainthood is groundbreaking, and is being recognized by the Catholic Church as such. Kateri is described as a rare find for the Church, who say she helped bring Catholicism and the teachings of Jesus back to her people.
“She’s seen very much as a bridge” between Native culture and Christianity,” said the Rev. Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest.
Indeed, the pope himself praised Kateri, who lived in the mid-1600s, for devoting her life to her faith.
“Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer, and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith and purity,” the pope said.
However, the image the Church has provided of Kateri is not one the Mohawks are fond of, saying that it makes their people seem divided. They also maintain that the Church is using Kateri to brighten their image a bit in the aftermath of so many scandals.
“I disagree with the characterizations of the ‘other Mohawks’ in the Jesuit accounts of Kateri,” Chaz Kader, a Mohawk journalist, said. “The contrast of good Mohawks and bad Mohawks still is affecting our people.”
The Mohawk people have struggled for decades against harsh criticism and stereotypes for wanting to hold on to their traditional way of life–including forming their own government–which is often associated with not paying taxes and smuggling goods across the border. These so-called “bad” Mohawks are also associated with shunning Kateri, while the “good” ones are said to have gone to Rome to celebrate her.