1st Native American saint being canonized in Rome

Phyllis Tessitore of Amsterdam, N.Y., prays at the National Kateri Shrine and Indian Museum in Fonda, N.Y.

ROME — The Roman Catholic Church began final preparations last week for what will be a watershed event in the Church’s relationship with Native American cultures: the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian from the 17th century, who today is becoming the Church’s first Native American saint.

More than 700 Native Americans, many in full regalia, were expected to take part in the ceremony in St. Peter’s Square honoring the woman known as the Lily of the Mohawks.

Among the first to arrive was a delegation of more than 50 from the Archdiocese of Seattle that included Jake Finkbonner, a 12-year-old boy whose recovery six years ago from necrotizing fasciitis, a rare flesh-eating disease, was accorded the status of a miracle by the Church.

His survival was anything but certain when his parish and Native Americans around the U.S. and Canada began praying to Tekakwitha, and his recovery was the key in the decision to canonize her, said the Rev. Wayne Paysse, executive director of the bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

American Indians have been appealing for Tekakwitha to be canonized for more than a century. She was given the status of venerable in 1942, the first step to sainthood, and was beatified in 1980.

Tekakwitha is one of three beatified women and four beatified men to be canonized today. One other is a North American, Blessed Marianne Cope, a German-born nun who ministered to lepers in Hawaii.