The Vatican

Pope exalts Catherine Tekakwitha, first Native American saint

This morning the Holy Father Pope Francis praised St. Francis Catalina Tekakwitha, first The Pope praised her "great love for the Cross in the face of difficulties and misunderstandings," "a definitive sign of Christ's love for all of us. The Pope encouraged "that we too may know how to live the ordinary in an extraordinary way".

Francisco Otamendi-August 30, 2023-Reading time: 4 minutes

Statue of St. Catherine Tekakwitha in Fonda, New York ©OSV

One day before beginning his apostolic journey "to the Asian continent, to visit the brothers and sisters of Mongolia"The Pope asked you to "accompany me with your prayers," and this morning the Roman Pontiff resumed the series of catecheses on "The Passion for Evangelization: the Apostolic Zeal of the Believer. The subject of his reflection was the first native saint of North America, Catherine Tekakwitha.

In his first words in the Paul VI Hall, packed with faithful from different countries, Pope Francis recalled in his address to the Pope that General Audience some features of the biography of the American saint. As mentioned by OmnesCatherine Tekakwitha was born in 1656 at Ossernenon, which was part of the Iroquois Confederation. This union of nations had its capital in present-day New York State. Catherine was the daughter of a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin Indian (from eastern Canada). Her mother was a Christian, but her father was a pagan, so the young Indian did not really come to faith until she was eighteen.

"Many of us," the Pope stressed, "were also introduced to the Lord for the first time in the family setting, especially by our mothers and grandmothers. Evangelization often begins in this way: with simple, small gestures, like parents who help their children learn to speak to God in prayer and speak to them of his great and merciful love. The foundations of Catherine's faith, and often also for us, were laid in this way". 

When Catalina was four years old, a severe smallpox epidemic struck her village. Both her parents and her younger brother died and Catalina herself was left with scars on her face and vision problems. "From that moment on Catherine had to face many difficulties: certainly the physical ones due to the effects of smallpox, but also the misunderstandings, persecutions and even death threats she suffered after her Baptism on Easter Sunday 1676," the Pope recalled.

"A holiness that attracted."

"All this made Catherine feel a great love for the cross, the definitive sign of the love of Christ, who gave himself up to the end for us. Indeed, witnessing to the Gospel does not consist only in what is pleasing; we must also know how to carry our daily crosses with patience, trust and hope," Pope Francis noted. 

Her decision to be baptized "provoked misunderstandings and threats among her people, so she had to take refuge in the Mohican region, in a Mission of the Jesuit Fathers. These events aroused in Catherine "a great love for the cross, which is in turn the definitive sign of Christ's love for all of us. In the community, she distinguished herself by her life of prayer and humble and constant service" to the children of the mission whom she taught to pray, to the sick and to the elderly.

At the Jesuit mission near Montreal, Catherine "attended Mass every morning, spent time in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, prayed the Rosary and led a life of penance," "spiritual practices that impressed everyone at the Mission; they recognized in Catherine a holiness that attracted because it was born of her deep love for God," the Holy Father said.

"Living the ordinary in an extraordinary way."

Although she was encouraged to marry, the Pope continued, "Catherine, on the other hand, wanted to dedicate her life completely to Christ. Unable to enter the consecrated life, she made a vow of perpetual virginity on March 25, 1679, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. Her choice reveals another aspect of apostolic zeal: total dedication to the Lord. Of course, not everyone is called to make the same vow as Catherine; however, every Christian is called to commit herself daily with an undivided heart to the vocation and mission that God has entrusted to her, serving Him and her neighbor in a spirit of charity," she said.

Francis pointed out that "in Catherine Tekakwitha, therefore, we find a woman who bore witness to the Gospel, not so much with great works, because she never founded a religious community or any educational or charitable institution, but with the silent joy and freedom of a life open to the Lord and to others. Also in the days before her death, which occurred at the age of 24, on April 17, 1680, Catherine fulfilled her vocation with simplicity, loving and praising God and teaching those with whom she lived to do the same. In fact, her last words were: 'Jesus, I love you'".

"In short," the Pope concluded, "she knew how to bear witness to the Gospel by living the ordinary with fidelity and simplicity. May we too know how to live the ordinary in an extraordinary way, asking for the grace to be - like this young saint - authentic followers of Jesus". 

Canonizations in France and Poland

In his greeting to the French-speaking pilgrims, the Pope made special reference to "the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, who are celebrating their General Chapter, in light of the recent canonization of their foundress, Marie Rivier". And among the English-speaking, 

greeted "the cyclists who have come all the way from England, with the assurance of my prayers for their commitment to the fight against cancer", and in particular those from Malta and various groups from the United States.

In Poland "they are impatiently awaiting the imminent beatification of the Ulma family. In many parishes the novena, which will begin the day after tomorrow, will be a spiritual preparation for the event. May the example of this heroic family," the Holy Father added, "who sacrificed their lives to save the persecuted Jews, help you to understand that holiness and heroic acts are achieved through fidelity in the little things".

Ukraine and second Laudato si' 

Greeting the Italian-speaking pilgrims, among other recipients, the Pope renewed "our closeness and our prayers for the beloved and tormented Ukraine, so tried by great sufferings".

The Pope recalled the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which will be celebrated this Friday, September 1. And he reiterated that he intends to publish a second edition of the Laudato si' October 4, feast of St. Francis of Assisi. In an audience with jurists on August 21, Francis revealed this upcoming exhortation.

The authorFrancisco Otamendi

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