Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2008
A dream comes true
Tekakwitha Conference celebrates at Lac Ste. Anne
By GLEN ARGAN
An icon of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha
"He had the right spirit in his heart," Frank said in an interview. "He really believed in it."
About two years later, Frank was born. "My mother said I was the healthiest one."
Since 1889, people have been coming to the Lac St. Anne Pilgrimage to wash in the healing waters of the lake that has been held sacred by native people for much longer. This year's pilgrimage will be held July 19-24.
While the 700 people who attended the Tekakwitha Conference was a much smaller group than the 40,000 to 50,000 who come to the pilgrimage, they came from much further afield.
Susie McPherson was part of a group of 10 who drove the 5,085 km from Jasper, Alabama, to Edmonton in three days.
Why the marathon journey? "I love Blessed Kateri," McPherson said simply.
Edith Manuel, a Tohono O'Odham Indian from Tucson, Ariz., walked into the lake to ask St. Anne and the saints to heal her arthritis and diabetes.
- WCR photo by Glen Argan
Franciscan Sr. Robert Ann Hecker of Mescalero, N.M. assists Edith Manuel of Tucson, Ariz., to walk in Lac Ste Anne July 5 during the Tekakwitha Conference. Manuel was seeking healing for arthritis and diabetes.
"I prayed before I went in the water and I offered some sacred plants," Manuel said.
A couple of dozen crutches hang in the shrine church, testimony to healings people have received at the pilgrimage. Others say they were healed of addictions at Lac Ste. Anne. Every year, the pilgrimage includes a service where pilgrims pledge to stay sober for the next year.
Large took the pledge 20 years ago and hasn't touched a drop since. Today, he's a certified addictions counsellor.
Father Garry Laboucane, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, told the conference that when he was a baby, his parents had to walk him all night long to keep him breathing. No one could determine the nature of his medical problem.
But his dad brought him to the pilgrimage and those health problems cleared up, never to return.
When he became a priest in 1984, Laboucane chose to be ordained at the pilgrimage. Most of his relatives lived in the bush and would be uncomfortable in a city church, he said. But at Lac Ste. Anne, they felt at home. "It was a wonderful event."
Laboucane has dear memories of the pilgrimage from his childhood. He stayed in a pup tent with his grandfather and recalled hearing busloads of people being driven onto the site, singing in Cree or Dene.
Many of the people at the conference spoke of their prayers for the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the Mohawk Indian who died near Montreal in 1680 at age 24.
"We consider her right now to be a saint," said Rudy Gonzales of Sanborn, N.Y. "It's only a political process that's holding it back."
Gonzales said his wife Leona was healed of thyroid cancer as a result of their prayers to Blessed Kateri.
"She is a strong spiritual force in our lives," said Leona, who has now been free of cancer for seven years.
"For the aboriginal people, Kateri is a symbol of their importance in the Church," said Oblate Father Jim Holland, pastor of Edmonton's aboriginal Sacred Heart Parish and one of the organizers of the conference.
"There is a lot of hope that she will be canonized in the next few years," he said.
Holland said Blessed Kateri is not as well known in Western Canada as in the East. Because of the French influence in the foundation of the Catholic Church in the West and because of native people's respect for grandmothers, St. Anne is a more common object of devotion.
Karen Wildcat of the Ermineskin Reserve at Hobbema said she does not know Blessed Kateri well. But she now hopes to spread the word about the Lily of the Mohawks through the retreats she runs for children and youth.
"She would be a role model for the youth - just getting them into spirituality and learning how to pray," Wildcat said.
Holland said that despite the lack of knowledge about Blessed Kateri, a Catholic school in Edmonton is named after her and students there made crosses that were included in the bags given to conference participants.
He was pleased that nine Western Canadian bishops attended at least part of the conference. "The support of the bishops was a symbol to the aboriginal people that they're important to the Church."
Cecilia Morin of Saskatoon echoed that view.
"I liked the bishops, our leaders, saying the Mass," Morin said. "I have a sense that they are so wanting the people to have healing and forgiveness and reconciliation."
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