Native American saint stirs controversy

Religion News Service reports on the controversy surrounding the latest person to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, Kateri Tekakwitha:

[The] viewpoints reflect the diverse, seemingly contradictory reactions to the young Mohawk woman who converted to Catholicism more than 300 years ago.

Some see it as a story of commitment and strength and an affirmation of Native Americans’ place in the Catholic Church. Others view it as the result of the excesses and arrogance of colonialism, the suppression of Native American tradition and culture, and the remnants of a missionary tradition that forced its narrow understanding of faith on others.

Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and an Algonquin/Christian mother in a Mohawk village in what is now Auriesville, N.Y. When she was 4, her parents and a younger brother died in a smallpox epidemic. The illness left her scarred and nearly blind.

She was baptized by a Jesuit missionary in 1676. Some Mohawks tormented her for her conversion, but she committed herself to Christianity and a life of virginity, practicing extreme acts of religious devotion, including self-flagellation. She fled to a Mohawk/Catholic village in what is now Montreal, and died there in 1680 at age 24.

Calls for her recognition as a saint date to her death, and the official church campaign began in 1931. According to the Vatican, prayers to Tekakwitha for her intercession were responsible for the inexplicable cure of a 6-year-old Native American boy in 2006 in Washington state who developed a flesh-eating virus after an injury

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Comments (1)

I honestly thought she'd been canonized some time ago.

I'm not sure the article makes a case for controversy regarding her canonization; it cites one Catholic Indian and one who practices traditional religion, both of whom are planned to attend the ceremony, and one who practices longhouse religion but objected to the canonization. But controversy implies something more than an individual difference of opinion, it seems to me.

Bill Dilworth

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