St. Kateri teaches us our response in faith to Jesus Christ brings healing, said Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith at a Thanksgiving Mass in Rome Oct. 22.
“Among the most striking aspects of her witness is the miraculous transformation of her face soon after her death,” said the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) in his homily at St. John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral church. “From the age of four, terribly scarred by the smallpox, her face was restored to its original beauty only minutes after she had died.”
Smith noted Kateri said “Jesus, I love you,” just before she died, showing how her response to Christ’s love preceded the healing.
“How greatly do we need this lesson from Kateri today,” he said. “We may not bear physical scars, but so many today carry deep emotional and psychological ones.
“These are inflicted not by smallpox but by poverty, addiction, loneliness and betrayal. They are caused by the abuse suffered by Kateri’s modern-day sisters and brothers in their time at residential schools,” he said. “So much pain, so many emotional scars. Yet Kateri teaches us that no wound, however deep, should leave us without hope.”
The archbishop called the facial healing “an outward sign of the interior transformation that is given to all who hand over their lives to Christ, and who do so in love.”
The Mass, televised live by Salt + Light Television, drew more than 2,500 people, many of them Canadian pilgrims. Almost 20 Canadian bishops were present, including concelebrants Bishop Lionel Gendron and Auxiliary Bishop Louis Dicaire of Saint Jean-Longueuil, who serve the diocese that includes the Mohawk territory where St. Kateri died. The all-party delegation led by Canada’s Speaker of the House of Commons, Andrew Scheer, attended as did Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy.
“The meeting of God’s loving initiative with a grace-filled human response is on beautiful display in the life of St. Kateri,” said Smith, who said her name Tekakwitha was one of the earliest signs.
Tekakwitha has a variety of interpretations: “she who feels her way ahead,” “moving forward slowly,” “one who bumps into things,” but also “one who places things in order” or “to put all into place,” the archbishop said.
“It is, of course, true that Kateri’s physical sight was seriously compromised due to the smallpox from which she suffered,” he said. “What is equally true, however, and what is of far greater significance, is that her inner vision was clear.
“Deep within her heart she had received the gift of seeing clearly the truth of Christ and His Church. It is as if God, through the very name Tekakwitha and the life of the one who bore it, has drawn attention to the limits of human vision in order to point us to the true sight that comes from faith.”
Smith tied the canonization of North America’s first female indigenous saint with the Year of Faith and the Synod on New Evangelization taking place in Rome until Oct. 28.
“Kateri reminds us that this new evangelization, to be effective, must not only be proposed anew but also find an open and ready welcome in the heart of the recipient,” he said. “When the Jesuit missionary, Fr. de Lamberville, spoke of our Lord and the Christian faith, the Gospel message of life and hope found a home within her.”
He called Kateri’s response to the Gospel message a “work of grace.”
“Only with the help of God’s grace are we able, like Kateri, to make of our entire lives a living and pleasing sacrifice to God, as St. Paul exhorts us to do,” he said. “Only with divine assistance do we become, like Kateri, the mothers, brothers and sisters of Christ by doing the will of His — and our — heavenly Father.”
An estimated 1,500 Canadian pilgrims attended the canonization in St. Peter’s Square, most of them from First Nations and other aboriginal communities. Among the 17 Canadian bishops was Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins.
“Throughout her short life, St. Kateri never abandoned her faith,” said Prime Minister Stephen Harper in an Oct. 21 statement.
“The canonization of St. Kateri is a great honour and joyous occasion for the many North Americans and aboriginal peoples who cherish her witness of faith and strength of character. The Government of Canada stands with those who are celebrating her life on this day in Canada, the United States and throughout the world.”
The canonization Mass Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Oct. 21 is available via the cccb.ca web site or at www.saltandlighttv.org.