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Catholic church celebrates as its namesake is canonized across the world

A day for a saint

Posted: October 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 22, 2012 2:00 a.m.

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More than 3,000 parishioners witnessed the transformation of their church Sunday as Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, conducted a canonization mass inside what is now called St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church.

Before Sunday, the church on Copper Hill Drive was called the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church.

The special mass Sunday was in honor of the Algonquin-Mohawk woman, known as The Lily of the Mohawk, who lived more than 350 years ago and who was canonized to sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Sunday.

Mahony delivered a homily for Tekakwitha to a congregation that saw every pew filled and parishioners listening intently who were standing at the back and outside the church’s open glass doors.

With the church parking lot filled to capacity and church officials in orange vests with walkie-talkies directing both motorists and pedestrians, many parishioners parked their cars in the shopping plaza lot at Copper Hill Drive and Seco Canyon Road.

A steady line of churchgoers was seen walking from the intersection, uphill for two blocks to the church.

Devotion

In talking about the importance of serving Christ, church officials read from three specific sections of the Bible: Isaiah 53:10-11, Hebrews 4:14-16 and Mark 10:35-45.

“Part of the role of the suffering servant is to lay down his life through much suffering and death in order to bring about a new life for everyone,” Mahony said.

“We see Jesus Christ telling the disciples ... to be a true disciple of mine means moving away from yourself, your self-interest, your pride, your ambitions and focusing not on ourselves and on what we want and desire but rather, constantly, looking outwards to the needs of those around us.”

Christ asked his disciples John and James to drink from his cup and to do as he does in service to others, Mahony said citing the gospel of Mark.

Mahony told the congregation that such service was witnessed in the devotion of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha to Christ’s work.

After the cardinal talked of sacrifice and devotion, local families took part in an elaborate procession of “dressing the altar.”

Parishioners dressed in white gowns covered with what appeared to be sack cloth walked slowly down the main aisle and presented a shawl embroidered with feathers that flanked the symbol of the cross.

They walked to music provided by a church band and choir, punctuated with the sounds of wood blocks and bass drums reminiscent of Native American music.

A young woman followed down the same aisle to the alter holding a cross hewed out of rough wood, adorned with an eagle and engraved on either cross beam with the image of dolphin and the image of a bear paw inside a circle.

Families followed in the same procession — one bringing to the altar a basket of fruit, another a basket of vegetables including corn and artichokes and one bringing a bouquet of simple white flowers.

Canonized

Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her badly scarred and with impaired eyesight.

She went to live with her uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized Catholic by Jesuit missionaries. But she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in what is now Canada when she was 24.

Speaking in English and French, in honor of Kateri’s Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Kateri’s indigenous culture for her to choose to devote herself to her Catholic faith.

“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” Benedict said. “Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America!”

Among the few people chosen to receive Communion from the pope himself was Jake Finkbonner, a 12-year-old boy of Native American descent from the western U.S. state of Washington, whose recovery from an infection of flesh-eating bacteria was deemed “miraculous” by the Vatican.

The Vatican determined that Jake was cured through Kateri’s intercession after his family and community invoked her in their prayers, paving the way for her canonization.

As The Lily of the Valley she was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.

She is the first Native American to be declared “blessed” and the first Native American to be canonized a saint.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

jholt@the-signal.com

661-287-5527

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