Fr. Paolo Molinari
Although separated from her by three centuries, an ocean and major cultural differences, Jesuit Father Paolo Molinari absolutely loves Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk woman who will become a saint in October.
While the 88-year-old Italian Jesuit was forced to give his successor most of the sainthood causes he still was actively promoting when he turned 80, "thank God, they let me keep Kateri."
Molinari, one of the Church's most prolific postulators - as the official promoters of causes are called - inherited Kateri's cause from his Jesuit predecessor in 1957. He shepherded her cause to beatification in 1980 and is now in talks with the pope's master of liturgical ceremonies to ensure Kateri's First Nations brothers and sisters will have a prominent role during her canonization Mass Oct. 21 at the Vatican.
Molinari hopes that one of the readings at the canonization Mass will be in Iroquoian, the language of the Mohawks. And First Nations choirs should be able to share their sacred music at the liturgy.
"I love her," said the Jesuit, his eyes sparkling. "She's a lovely young lady indeed."
Molinari said his admiration for Kateri, combined with the complex Vatican process for declaring saints and the fact she died some 330 years ago, gave him 55 years to practise the virtue of patience.
Kateri's cause was supported by plenty of eyewitness accounts of her life, faith, good works and death.
The Jesuit missionaries who baptized her in 1676 and provided her with spiritual guidance until her death in 1680 at the age of 24 wrote formal annual reports about their missions to the Jesuit superior general. Kateri, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, is mentioned in many of the reports, he said.
Molinari also had access to the Jesuits' letters that spoke about Kateri in glowing terms and to biographies of Kateri written by two of the Jesuits who knew her at the Mission of St. Francis Xavier in what is now Kahnawake, Quebec.
Kateri was born to a Catholic Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 along the Hudson River in what is today upstate New York.
After her Baptism, Molinari said, "she kept living the life of a normal Indian. She continued to be an Indian young lady, and yet she did it with the spirit of the Gospel: showing goodness and tenderness to people who were in need."
Molinari said that although the cause was challenging at times, he kept working for Kateri's canonization because of her importance to the native peoples of North America. Kateri is a model who can "help those who are Christian live the Gospel in their own culture."
Once Kateri was beatified, Molinari's efforts turned to helping more people learn her story, encouraging people to trust that she could intercede with God to help them and finding an extraordinary grace that could be recognized officially as a miracle granted by God through her intercession.