Message from the Catholic Aboriginal Council for Reconciliation for the National Day of Prayer for Aboriginal People

Monday, December 08 2008

Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe

12 December 2008

For the past six years, on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, the National Day of Prayer for Aboriginal People has expressed, through prayer, the unity that non-Aboriginal Catholics and Aboriginal Catholics share in their faith in Jesus Christ.  Today, this event is of particular significance as it takes place during the year that celebrates the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.  The establishment of this colony began a dynamic evangelization movement marked by the meeting of Aboriginal peoples and French Catholic missionaries. 

One of the most beautiful witnesses to this meeting is that of Kateri Tekakwitha, known as "The Lily of the Mohawks."  Kateri was born in 1656 of a Christian Algonquin woman and an Iroquois chief, in the village of Ossernenon, the present-day Auriesville, New York.  When she was four years old, she lost both parents and her young brother in a smallpox epidemic.  Orphaned, she was taken in by one of her uncles and educated by her aunts.  She carried with her the scars of smallpox throughout the rest of her life. 

In 1666, a conflict with a French expedition forced her tribe to relocate to the north bank of the Mohawk River (Rivière des Hollandais) in the state of New York, where Kateri first came into contact with Jesuit missionaries. Struck by their hospitality, she stayed with the Jesuits and helped them with many tasks.  On Easter Sunday, 1676, she was baptized. Despite persecution from members of her community, she led a profound spiritual life and, following Father Lamberville’s advice, went to live in Sault Saint-Louis (present-day Kahnawake) at the Saint-François-Xavier mission.  She made a vow of chastity on 25 March 1679 and died on 17 April 1680, only 24 years old. On 22 June 1980, she was beatified by Pope John Paul II.

On this National Day of Prayer, we may very well ask ourselves this question: What message did Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha want to leave us?  We can focus on her openness toward others, toward foreigners whom she did not know.  At the same time, we can also look at the foreign missionaries who, thanks to their hospitality, were able to stir in her heart a call to further openness towards others.  Witnesses of the Gospel were in the presence of someone who would later herself become a witness to the same Gospel.

In a recent pastoral message, Aboriginal people were told:

"You are finding new strength in an ever-deepening embrace of the seven spiritual gifts of respect, wisdom, courage, love, humility, honesty, and truth, as expressed in the teachings of the Medicine Wheel. In this way, you reflect ever more clearly your true dignity as Children of God."[1]

Has Blessed Kateri not demonstrated that these seven gifts, which she fully accepted, come from the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23) whom God the Father sent us in the name of his Son (John 14.26)?   Pope John Paul II further recognized this when he declared:

"Your encounter with the Gospel has not only enriched you, it has enriched the Church. We are well aware that this has not taken place without its difficulties and, occasionally, its blunders. However, and you are experiencing this today, the Gospel does not destroy what is best in you. On the contrary, it enriches as it were from within the spiritual qualities and gifts that are distinctive of your cultures (cf. Gaudium et Spes, n. 58). In addition, your Amerindian and Inuit traditions permit the development of new ways of expressing the message of salvation and they help us to better understand to what point Jesus is the Savior and how universal his salvation is."[2]

In the context of the reconciliation and spiritual healing movements for Aboriginals who suffered painful experiences in residential schools run by the federal government and various Churches, Blessed Kateri teaches us that patience, respect, and love of others are at the heart of forgiveness.  If the past has been marked by hardship, the future calls us to awaken the resilience within our communities in order to bring out their riches.  Pope Benedict XVI has said that "All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action."  Is this not an invitation to "work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future"[3]?

May God, the Creator and Savior, lead all of our communities, through the intercession of Kateri Tekakwitha, to live united in the Church in the peace of Jesus Christ, our hope (1 Timothy 1.1).

Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha

O God, among the many marvels of your grace in the New World, you did cause to blossom on the banks of the Mohawk and of the Saint Lawrence the pure and tender Lily, Kateri Tekakwitha. Grant, we beseech you, the favor we beg through her intercession; that this young lover of Jesus and of his Cross may soon be counted among her saints by Holy Mother Church, and that our hearts may be enkindled with a stronger desire to imitate her innocence and faith. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

[1] Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, Episcopal Commission for the Evangelization of Peoples, A Pastoral Message to the Native Peoples of Canada, May 1999.

[2] John Paul II, Homily at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, September 10, 1984.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, n. 35, 30 November 2007.