HEAVEN AND EARTH
ROME, October 21, 2012 – This morning in St. Peter’s Square Pope Benedict XVI formally inducted Kateri Tekakwitha into the company of Catholic Saints. Father Claude Chauchetiere’s quest to obtain recognition of her surpassing spirituality, begun in 1680 with a request to exhume her body and bring it into the mission chapel, has succeeded, and she becomes the first native American saint.
Twenty-five thousand people filled St. Peter’s Square this morning to witness the elevation of seven saints. The great ecumenical gathering – many nations, many languages, many colorful flags and banners – bowed at the consecration, traded signs of peace and received communion beneath the cloudless sky.
What was it like in the crowd?
I arrived about 7:30 a.m. and nuns and priests and laity were briskly walking into the square looking serious and purposeful. A huge crowd was already pressing at the barriers. Displayed on the facade of St. Peter’s were the seven portraits, and thankfully the Vatican saw fit to use Pere Claude’s 1695 iconic portrait, and not the Hollywood hypothecation they printed on religious cards.
On the way in at 8:00 a.m., a Filipino gentlemen named Delfin marveled at the gathering and extolled the value of priests. “They are our leaders,” he told me. “When we are afraid, we close our mouths and then the work of the devil begins. But if we listen to the priests, we speak out and the devil loses power.” He was there to honor Pedro Calungsod who was martyred at 19 on the Island of Guam.
I heard an American accent and behind me was Father Peter Murray, a Jesuit stationed in Rome who had run the Auriesville Shrine in Fonda, NY, from 2003 until 2011. He had seen Bishop Howard Hubbard earlier and being a graduate of Vincentian Institute in Albany knew my friends from Albany politics the Breslin brothers and Jack McEneny. Through this blog Father Murray sends his best wishes all those who have received healings from Kateri.
With Father Murray was Mike Schweigert, a volunteer presently at the shrine, who lives in Guilderland. “I’m Father Murray’s donne,” he joked, likening himself to the lay clerics who accompanied the Jesuit missionaries, such as Rene Goupil who perished at Ossernenon and caused Father Jogues to consider an escape.
Finding a seat, I saw a beautiful young woman in native American dress, her long hair braided, white beaded moccasins on her feet and a cloth tunic tied up with a blue beaded belt. Michelle Jacob, a full-blooded Yakama from the Seattle area, is an associate professor in ethnic studies at University of San Diego. She was very curious to learn Kateri’s story and we spent some time discussing the effect of this canonization on the Christianity of the United States’ native population.
A small, smiling nun was looking for a seat, and I invited her to sit next to me. Sister Theresa, from South Viet Nam and the Order of the Lovers of the Holy Cross of Go Vap, now lives and works in Seattle. She is of the congregation that includes Jake Finkbonner whose life was saved by Kateri’s intercession when his lip was infected by the flesh-eating bacteria. She described her duties in helping at the church, visiting shut-ins and teaching the children and showed her happiness in a smile that burst forth like the sun from beneath the sunglasses she wore.
A tall young man named Thomas from Mindelstetten, Bavaria, wore lederhosen to the ceremony and he attended to celebrate the elevation of Anna Shaffer who was severely injured in an industrial accident and turned her life over to Jesus with such abandon she received the stigmata.
At communion, the group behind me turned out to be from Seattle with Sister Theresa, friends and close associates of Jake Finkbonner. I spoke with Matthew Sofka, one of Jake’s classmates, who had witnessed firsthand “Father Tim” telling neighbors and friends to pray to Kateri and thought Jake was “pretty cool.” He pointed to the altar on the steps of the basilica when I asked where Jake was. “Up there,” he said with a beaming smile.
A lovely young reporter for the Montreal Press, Mali, asked me many questions about Kateri and her life in the Mohawk and St. Lawrence Valleys. She has just been assigned to Rome by her newspaper from London and loves the climate and plans to learn more about Catholicism.
Everywhere everyone was smiling and laughing and sharing stories about their homes and their faith which drew them to this gathering. The choir was flawless and the reading of the candidates for sainthood sent shivers up our spines.
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This will be my fifth and final offering in which I’ve shared thoughts and ruminations about the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha.
I have spent five wonderful days re-visiting the sites and museums in Rome and Florence to give a bit of context to the event and the ceremony and in the process I have mediated upon her unique presence in the world today. This has been the trip of a lifetime, the most purposeful and happy of my many wonderful pilgrimages, usually undertaken to literary shrines and art museums. If you recall my first offering, I discussed a neurologist’s visit to the next world in which he described a resplendent place of color and music and tactile sensations and telepathy in which beings of pure energy were so filled with joy they needed to sing. Surely that is the heaven of our long Judeo-Christian era, from Jacob’s ladder on forward, and surely Kateri abides there.
What, I suppose, is unique about saints is their continued presence in this world, effecting cures and offering themselves as intermediaries with the Deity. Jake Finkbonner and his classmate can attest to the favor she granted, a young and happy life rescued from worldly disease like something out of the Book of Job.
A friend of mine once observed that are all God’s “lessons in love,” and that sometimes we “get it,” and sometimes it passes us by. Love, according to Jesus Christ and St. Paul and Dr. Alexander, the neurologist who went to heaven, is surely the driving force of the universe, and its working in the affairs of humankind is often ragged and mysterious.
Life is not an easy proposition ever for anyone, and if pressed to encapsulate the past five days I would have to say that I see now that all races and all religions of this world are living for the same purpose, only choosing to do it in ways as varied as the languages I’ve heard in St. Peter’s Square.
Kateri Tekakwitha profoundly exemplifies Christ’s teaching that the meek and the poor, not the rich and the powerful, inherently understand what is real and important in this world looking toward the next, and also that love and its mighty force of forgiveness – exemplified by Christ on the cross and Isaac Jogues in the midst of his torture – will open our hearts to such light and joy we can experience in this world as we look forward to the next.
More Posts from Kateri’s Canonization
Thank you to all those who have followed these daily journal entries and especially those who have commented on them. I hope you will explore further Kateri’s story and that she will come to be as wonderful a guide to you as she has been to me over the past thirty years. Over and out, and I can’t wait to get home!
— Jack Casey
[Top photo caption: Jack Casey with native-American Michelle Jacob, Yakama nation in the state of Washington, now teaching at University of San Diego, Department of Ethnic Studies.]
KATERI —LILY OF THE MOHAWKS was published by Staff Picks Press in October 2012, the month Kateri Tekakwitha was sainted by the Pope. It is available for purchase through the Troy Book Makers, through independent booksellers and through Amazon.