Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 19, 2008
Edmonton to host major Tekakwitha Conference
Blessed Kateri helped the sick and elderly
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
North America's oldest and largest conference of First Nations Catholics will be held in Edmonton in early July.
One Heart-All Nations is the theme of the 69th annual Kateri Tekakwitha Conference July 2-6 at the Mayfield Inn & Suites Conference Centre, 16615-109 Ave. Up to 1,000 people from across North America are expected to attend.
It is the first time that the conference, which will be hosted by the Alberta Métis and First Nations communities, will be held in Canada.
"It's a major gathering of native people from all over the United States and Canada," said Oblate Father Garry Laboucane, a member of the planning committee. "It's a time for prayer and singing."
The conference is named after Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. One of its goals is to unify Aboriginal Catholics while respecting tribal differences.
"The conference also strives to empower native Catholics as Church and to deepen and affirm native Catholic identity and pride in their culture and spiritual traditions," said conference spokesperson Felice Gladue, a Métis from Sherwood Park.
Other aims of the conference are to promote and maintain ongoing communication and involvement between tribes and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America and to pray for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, to share the story of her life and to follow her example of holiness.
"(The conference) is basically a group of Catholics who come together each year and we pray for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha," added Gladue, who attended last year's conference in Baltimore as part of a delegation of 10.
A primary way of encouraging devotion to Blessed Kateri and Aboriginal spirituality is through Kateri circles. There are 130 such circles in the United States but none in Alberta, according to Gladue. "There are pockets here and there but no organized circles."
She hopes one spin-off from the conference will be the creation of some Kateri circles.
Gladue said Sacred Heart Parish and its pastor, Oblate Father Jim Holland, have been "very supportive" of the conference by making the parish facilities available for meetings and fundraising activities.
Holland has attended several Tekakwitha conferences over the years.
The conference welcomes both adults and youth. There will be a separate youth agenda of workshops and activities.
At least 13 workshops will be offered during the five-day event, including the presentation of a video on Blessed Kateri and a discussion of prayer, ritual and spirituality in First Nations and Catholic traditions.
Based on the premise that the family that prays together stays together, the family of the late Mary Poitras will share their music, singing and personal testimonies on the power of prayer during the conference.
Mary Poitras had a firm belief in the intercessory prayers of the saints and left this legacy to her 10 children. The family, whose members live in different communities throughout Alberta, has a strong devotion to the rosary and will lead the living rosary and chaplet of divine mercy at the conference.
The conference patroness - Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - was born in 1656 of a Catholic Algonquin mother and a traditional Mohawk Chief in a village called Ossernenon along the Mohawk River.
A smallpox epidemic swept through the Mohawk village and claimed the lives of Tekakwitha's parents and baby brother. She survived the disease but it left her eyesight impaired and her body scarred. It also left her physically weak for the rest of her life.
Orphaned at age four, she was adopted by her aunt and uncle.
In 1670, St. Peter's Mission was established in Caughnawaga, N.Y. Four years later, Father James de Lamberville became responsible for the new mission. Tekakwitha met de Lamberville and expressed her desire for Baptism.
On April 5, 1676 she was baptized and was given the name Kateri. In August 1677, Kateri was encouraged and assisted to leave her Mohawk village and live at Sault St. Louis near Montreal.
After a long and strenuous trip, she arrived at the Sault with the help of friends. Finally, she would be able to practise her Christian ways with greater openness and freedom.
On Christmas Day, 1677, Kateri received her first Holy Communion. On March 25, 1679, Kateri pronounced a vow of perpetual virginity.
Her life was devoted to teaching prayers to children and helping the sick and aged until she became frail and weak.
On April 17, 1680, she died at the age of 24. Her last words were: "Iesos konoronkwa," "Jesus, I love you."
A few minutes after her death, those around her bedside saw the ugly scars on her face suddenly disappear. On June 22, 1980 Kateri became the first North American Aboriginal to be beatified.
Various conference committees are looking for volunteers to help in planning and/or during the conference. To volunteer or for more information on the conference contact Felice Gladue at 780-975-2084 or firstname.lastname@example.org.