Thank you Saint Kateri for your witness

By S. Rita Ostry, ND

St. Kateri Tekakwitha is the first Native American to be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. She was born in 1656, in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon. Her mother was an Algonquin, who was captured by the Mohawks and who took a Mohawk chief for her husband. Smallpox killed her family and left her with many scars at the age of four. At 19 she converted to Catholicism and died five years later. Kateri Tekakwitha is the patroness of ecology and the environment, people in exile and Native Americans.

As we celebrate July 14, the feast of St. Kateri Tekawitha there are many mixed reactions to this feast.  Taken from the Catholic perspective being elevated to sainthood is truly an ultimate honor bestowed upon a person.  It proclaims the person’s outstanding life of faith, service, and faithful commitment to a deep, trusting relationship with God. As we know Kateri was a Native American who was taught and lived with the idea that her Native Spirituality was pagan and needed to be denied. There is, also, the Native American perspective that honors, reverences and celebrates the oneness and relatedness of all of creation realizing “We are all Related.”

Kateri seems to have navigated these two perspectives in amazing ways. She was introduced to and learned the ways of Jesus that impacted her deeply. This affected her relationship with others and deepened her relationship with God. It is told that often in the afternoons she would spend hours out in nature finding peace, courage, and solace in the midst of creation and with the Great Spirit.

Throughout her life she faced the many trials of the colonization of Native peoples. She also endured alienation from her own people; yet she found a passion and zeal to share her belief in God and all of creation that honored the integrity of who she was.

In celebrating this feast, may it challenge us to ponder the many unique ways God can and does marvelous wonders through us. It is not identifying and claiming there is only one way to God. Rather may we honor and reverence the variety of religions and relationships with God that bless our world.

Thank you, Kateri, for your witness, and Happy Feast to you.