Canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

By Lisa Maxson

The canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is an important development for many in the Archdiocese of Omaha, particularly people on the Winnebago and Omaha res-ervations: She will be the first Native American declared a saint.

For more than a year, Iris Payer and others in the Kateri Circle at St. Augustine Parish in Winneba-go worked hard to raise money for 22 people to go to Rome for the Oct. 21 canonization ceremony of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to become a saint.Thirty-two people, including 22 from St. Augustine Indian Mission in Winnebago and Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Macy, will travel to Rome to attend the Oct. 21 canonization. And while on a separate pilgrimage to Rome, Archbishop George J. Lucas will celebrate with the group at a thanksgiving Mass the day after the canonization.

The raffle drawings, fish dinners and community breakfasts paid off ? they will get to hear Pope Bene-dict XVI declare Blessed Kateri a saint, said Payer, the prayer group?s president. ?This is an honor that affects all Native Americans. We?re all blessed to have this happen,? she said.

The canonization is a profound event in the history of Native American Catholics because many feel it will help give them the recognition they deserve in the Catholic Church, said Father Dave Korth, director of the St. Augustine Indian Mission.

Since at least the late 1800s, Native American Cath-olics have made appeals to the Catholic Church and many prayed daily for the young Mohawk woman?s canonization, he said. ?This is most definitely a message that Native American Catholics are being recognized and fully accepted and incorporated into the church,? Father Korth said.

The Winnebago group will leave Oct. 19 and return Oct. 25. The group includes Father Korth and Father Mike Eckley, pastor of St. Pius X Parish in Omaha and former pastor of St. Augustine Parish; Don Blackbird, principal of St. Augustine Indian Mission; Kateri Cir-cle members; several mission students; and members of St. Augustine Parish and Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Macy.

Ten others will join them, including Father Eckley?s and Father Korth?s mothers, a family of three from St. Paul, Minn., three people from Wisconsin and two from Nevada.

In addition to the canonization they plan to be part of an audience with Pope Benedict, visit tourist attrac-tions in Rome and take a day trip to Assisi. And they will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving Oct. 24 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome with Archbishop George J. Lucas and several members of the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre, who will be on a separate Holy Land and Rome pilgrimage and arrive in Rome a day after the canonization.

Father Korth said the trip will cost the mission $66,000 ? $3,000 for each person going from the reser-vation ? and so far they have just over $50,000.

In addition to the Kateri Circle fundraisers, sales of Father Korth?s second Native American flute CD, ?Counted Among Her Saints? has generated money for the trip. Since June, Fourth Korth said, he has preached throughout the archdiocese about St. Augustine Indian Mission and the canonization, and Catholics have been generous in their donations.

A couple Catholic schools even donated money raised from ?dress down? days, he said.

Blessed Kateri was born in 1665 in a village on the Mohawk River called Ossernenon, now Auriesville, N.Y. When she was 4, a smallpox epidemic claimed her parents and baby brother. Kateri survived but her face was disfigured and her eyesight impaired.

Despite objections from relatives, she chose to be baptized and pursue religious life instead of entering an arranged marriage. She took a private vow of vir-ginity and devoted herself to prayer and to teaching prayers to children and helping the sick and elderly at Caughnawaga in Canada.