Carolyn Girard, The Catholic Register
KAHNAWAKE, QUE. - The small Catholic community of St. Francis Xavier Church, with the St. Lawrence River and sprawling Montreal as its backdrop, has enthusiastically prepared for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
Located in Mohawk territory in Kahnawake, the church enshrines the remains of Blessed Kateri, a native woman who found refuge and spiritual renewal in the region where she spent her final days as a Catholic. Her remains lay beneath a marble tomb in the church, entombed primarily to ensure their safety and respect, as someone had previously attempted to steal them many years ago.
Pilgrims can kneel and pray or light a votive candle with Blessed Kateri’s likeness on it. The image is based on an oil-on-canvas painting, housed in a room beyond the gift shop, painted by Jesuit Father Claude Chauchetiere, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Mission from 1677 to 1688, and a witness at Blessed Kateri’s death.
In a gift shop adjacent to the church, Kahnawake native Ann-Marie Sky talks about the importance of Blessed Kateri’s example not only for herself, but for the survival of the parish.
“For me, it’s her spirituality and her perseverance during the time and after she became Catholic. She was ostracized for that, so her faith really carried her through,” Sky said. Similarly, the parish has had to learn to persevere just to keep the church doors open.
“The church almost had to close a year and a half ago due to finances,” Sky explained. “We were just working our way back up and we got the news that she will be canonized, so now we’re really trying to keep the church afloat.”
For a parish that only sees about 60 regular Mass-goers on Sunday mornings, the annual $25,000 price tag for utilities to heat and use the church has been a challenge. But with great faith and ambitious fundraisers, it has managed to pay the bills. And since the announcement that Kateri would be canonized on Oct. 21, making her the first North American aboriginal saint, the parish has seen nearly three times the number of pilgrims it normally sees. The demand for Kateri merchandise has risen and Sky is trying to stock enough merchandise before Oct. 21, when the mission expects busloads of visitors to join parishioners for a re-broadcast of the canonization in Rome.
The Pope’s Feb. 18 announcement of Kateri’s canonization came as a surprise.
“I couldn’t believe it, because after Brother André was canonized, I didn’t think there would be anybody else from Quebec canonized for another 20 years,” Sky said.
And not only in Quebec, but from the same area, she added. From the church in Kahnawake, the dome of St. Joseph’s Oratory on Mount Royal — the legacy of St. Brother André — is easy to spot across the river on a clear day.
Like Sky, Kahnawake resident Beverly Delormier has been working diligently to prepare for the big day, although Delormier will be spending it in Rome.
“I was there in 1980 with my daughters when she was beatified and never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would go there again for the canonization,” marvelled Delormier. “The day of the beatification everybody had their native dress on, so it was really something spectacular to see.”
For Delormier, Blessed Kateri is an important intercessor.
“It’s all little things, but I believe in the power of prayer.”
Deacon Ron Boyer, Canadian vice-postulator for the canonization of Kateri, says her canonization is long overdue. But more importantly, the canonization brings to light God’s desire to reach the aboriginal people.
“Her first miracle happened about 15 minutes after she died,” Boyer said, referring to the historical accounts of Kateri’s transformation. Kateri had contracted smallpox as a child and was left partially blind and covered with facial scars. Minutes after her death, any trace of her scars vanished and her appearance was described as beautiful.
“Why would God glorify a dead body? Why? Nobody has been able to answer that for me, but I believe He did it to show us that there is a God,” Boyer concludes.
Boyer adds Kateri is also significant for her impact on Christians and non-Christians alike.
“Many non-Catholic aboriginal people are going to Rome to pay homage to Kateri. She was special, a lady of many qualities,” Boyer said. “She is also the empress of ecology and a symbol for the youth.”
As the diocese of Saint-Jean- Longueuil is not immune to the shortage of priests in Canada, St. Francis Xavier has a pastor, Fr. Raymond Esprit, who is present only three days per week. Boyer hopes the canonization and increased traffic might mean a permanent priest in the future.
In the meantime, the canonization has already served to strengthen ties within the Kahnawake community. A committee from the parish has been working with the diocese to prepare for the big day, as well as a thanksgiving Mass to be held at St. Joseph’s Oratory on Nov. 4.
Saint-Jean-Longueuil diocese is sending 200 pilgrims to Rome.
“For the native communities and for the larger community in North America, the canonization is extremely important because of her status as the first native woman of our continent to be recognized as a saint,” said Auxiliary Bishop Louis Dicaire. “We have been surprised by the interest from the general population of our diocese, often among young people 25 to 30 years old. Kateri is providing a source of inspiration.”
Although children do not receive formal Catholic education through the Quebec school system, volunteers at the Shrine say visits from area schools are on the rise and children learn about the woman whose name graces the local hospital, school and nearby island.
(Girard is a freelance writer in Ottawa.)
OTTAWA - After 18 years of evangelizing youth across Canada, National Evangelization Teams (NET) Ministries has finally taken hold in Quebec.
Seven youth aged 18-20 will devote the next eight months of their lives to missionary work at Saint-Louis-de-France parish in Terrebonne, Que. There, they hope to bond with parishioners, who will billet them in their own homes, and lay the foundations for an active youth ministry while sharing the Good News and drawing people into a personal relationship with Christ.
“It is an amazing opportunity to be in Quebec and it is certainly missionary territory,” said Joe Vogel, executive director for NET.
NET Ministries already has several English-speaking youth missionary teams across Canada. Vogel explained that “Les equipes NET,” the French-speaking branch of NET, began several years ago as a travelling team which spent one to two weeks in various francophone communities. He likens the visits to planting a “seed” of faith, but in Terrebonne that seed will now be watered and given ample sunshine. The parish team will spend almost a year getting to know the community and its social reality, forming friendships, identifying the needs and wants of the faithful. It aims to organize a youth group, retreats, prayer events, anything to be effective in reaching people’s hearts for Christ. Essentially, the team is there to serve, responding wholeheartedly to the call for new evangelization, after a summer of training.
“We’re praying that it works and we are going to do the best that we can,” said Vogel. “Success would be witnessing the Gospel to young people and seeing lives changed.”
The community at Saint-Louisde-France was eagerly anticipating the NET team’s arrival this month. Micheline Chartrand, a lifetime parishioner, made the trip from Terrebonne to Ottawa on Sept. 29 for the NET Ministries’ Commissioning Mass, where Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast gave his blessing to all the young missionaries who will scatter across Canada this year.
“My hope is that by the end, we will have a group of youth who will be equipped to train other youth (to evangelize) and that they will experience peace and serenity in their hearts,” said Chartrand, adding that the French travelling team helped revive her faith during its visit more than a year ago.
None of the team members come from Quebec, but all are eager to explore the new mission territory and brush up on language skills at the same time.
“It’s a little intimidating, and humbling, but very exciting,” admits Kaylene McQuaid, originally from North Battleford, Sask. “I took French from Kindergarten until Grade 12, but I kind of took it for granted, and now I see there was definitely a reason why I took French. But being immersed in the culture will help as well.”
Charles Turner, a team member from Alberta, is honoured to live out the new evangelization in uncharted territory.
“We’re really coming out of our comfort zone,” he said.
In addition to Quebeckers, the NET missionaries will also be working directly with five missionary priests from France, members of the Community of Saint John, which was founded in 1975. The religious community of brothers began sending its priests to Quebec 16 years ago.
Fr. Marie Elie joined his brethren in Canada five years ago, with the task of finding the means to breathe life into the faith lives of the youth. Little by little, the priests have been creating opportunities for the youth of their parish to grow in faith and are preparing to send a group to the next World Youth Day. But NET seemed like the answer to their prayers, to give their ministry a boost.
“It is a beautiful opportunity to have young people who are equipped to encounter and engage young Quebeckers. The culture is a difficult one to penetrate, and a difficult one to connect with, and so we know that to succeed in the task we need help to show young Quebeckers that faith is not dead and the Gospel can be a beautiful part of their lives,” said Fr. Marie Elie.
NET missionary Pio Hartnett joins the Quebec team directly from Ireland. This year’s stay in Terrebonne will offer many challenges, but he still feels confident.
“The situation in Quebec reminds me of the situation in Ireland,” said Hartnett. “When I signed up for NET, I thought it would be amazing to be a part of this team... and so I am very excited.”
MONTREAL - Alisha Ruiss knows very well that the performing arts community needs Jesus.
But while Catholics need to realize that God is calling out for people to evangelize the arts community, Ruiss believes He is also calling just as loudly for Christians to discover His presence in the arts.
TORONTO - Helping refugees is a prime example of what it means to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” says Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins, and through the archdiocese’s Office for Refugees (ORAT) Catholics have been able to follow Christ’s example in caring for others.
“It is a tremendous blessing to have the Office for Refugees working in our archdiocese,” Archbishop Thomas Collins said in a written statement. “We have seen countless examples of our parishes embracing strangers from foreign lands and journeying with them as they begin life in a new country and community.”
Ten years ago Mark was a refugee. He was welcomed into Canada after fleeing his native Hungary, where he had become a target of factions who resented his work on behalf of victims of racism.
Although some proponents of the domain say this will make it easier for people to block pornographic content, critics say that unless regulations make the .xxx domain a requirement, explicit content online will grow since people won’t be required to shut down porn sites on other domains.
The 400th anniversary of that historic baptism was celebrated in a public showcase June 24-28 that paid homage to Mi’kmaq culture and the important contribution made by Membertou and the Mi’kmaq nation to the spread of Catholicism in Canada. To this day, virtually every Mi’kmaq is a baptized Christian.
Clint Tyler, director of the marriage preparation and family life office at the archdiocese of Toronto, said its multi-week course is much more than a “happy weekend where couples can feel good,” but a real chance to discuss important issues that many couples don’t address on their own.
“It’s about having them explore if they are ready to commit to a Catholic vision of marriage,” Tyler said. “It’s our job to present that vision of Catholic marriage.”
About 20 per cent of couples who take the archdiocesan marriage prep course decide not to go ahead with a wedding, Tyler said, adding it’s better that they realize ahead of time if they have the same vision for their marriage and understand that it’s not just a commitment but a covenant.
The Canadian Church Press (CCP), which in conjunction with the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada (ARCCC) held its annual conference here May 13-15, has seen its members suffer a two-per-cent decrease in subscriptions across the board in the past year. The theme of the conference? “We’re all in the same boat.”