Karen Wildcat, organizer of the second annual St. Kateri Gathering at Maskwacis, holds an image of the celebrated saint.

WCR PHOTO | THANDIWE KONGUAVI

Karen Wildcat, organizer of the second annual St. Kateri Gathering at Maskwacis, holds an image of the celebrated saint.

July 27, 2015
THANDIWE KONGUAVI
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER

St. Kateri's virtue of forgiveness was celebrated at the second annual St. Kateri Gathering July 11 at Maskwacis (formerly Hobbema).

"Some of our people have great animosity toward the Church," said Ermineskin elder Alec Piche.

"At some point in life we have to forgive. We can't dwell on the past forever and ever, and I think her example – she forgave people that shortchanged her, – this is what we have to do as native people. We have to forgive and then the hurt will leave gradually."

The theme of this year's festival was Psalm 51.10: "Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Reflecting on the absolution theme, Father Nilo Macapinlac of the festival's host parish Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, underlined the need for forgiveness, saying the only supernatural grace that can create a forgiving spirit is that which comes from the Holy Spirit.

"Today we ask for the grace of God, that after receiving a renewed spirit and contrite heart from the Lord, we can become the ambassadors of reconciliation," Macapinlac said.

Approximately 120 people gathered to celebrate the Mohawk woman, who was canonized in 2012.

"It feels great," said Piche. "It feels like finally we have somebody of our own nation that's honoured by the whole Catholic Church. The native people have been searching for somebody that they can feel connected to, and she's one of us."

Known as the Lily of the Mohawks for her purity, the young Kateri was said to spend entire days in prayer, attending 4 a.m. Mass at sunrise and staying well into the night.

Born Kateri Tekakwitha to a Mohawk chief and an Algonquin Christian mother in what is now upstate New York, she lived from 1656 to 1680.

The young girl was the sole survivour of her family following a smallpox epidemic. Still she suffered the disease's complications – fatigue, scarring and disfigurement – throughout her life.

The physical scars were not the only cross Kateri had to bear. She also faced persecution from non-Christian relatives for her devotion to prayer and her Christian faith.

MIRACULOUS HEALING

After she died at 24, one of the most significant miracles seen in Canada occurred when her face was suddenly healed of its scars and pockmarks from the effects of smallpox.

Fr. Myles Gaffney

This miracle was the first of hundreds of healings attributed to Blessed Kateri over the next 300 plus years.

One of the most notable happened in February 2006 when six-year-old Jake Finkbonner, who was dying in Seattle from necrotizing fasciitis (commonly called flesh-eating disease) was healed through intercessory prayers to the Mohawk woman.

During the gathering, Father Myles Gaffney recited some of the many titles given to Canada's first aboriginal saint: Genevieve of Canada; Guardian Angel of the Mission; Our Good Protectress; Our Protectress and Advocate Before God; Protectress of the Colony of Canada.

St. Kateri also offered an example of prayer in the midst of a very busy life, said Gaffney, who is the author of Signposts of Our Faith: Canadian Witnesses to Vocation and Mission which features St. Kateri.

On several occasions she is described as going on hunts far from her village and Church for long lengths of time, yet always remaining faithful to prayer.

At the time of her canonization in 2012, the renewal of the faith among the First Nations and in all of North America was entrusted to her.

In his keynote speech, Gaffney reflected on her many virtues, including her courage in persecution, love of God and neighbour, chastity, obedience, heroic faith, hope, patience, spirit of sacrifice and humility.

In some ways, he said, we are just beginning to discover the significance of St. Kateri.

As an elder, Piche said the annual gathering is a great opportunity for young people especially to learn more of St. Kateri's life and reputation for holiness.

EXAMPLE TO THE YOUTH

"We have to let our young people know who she is, what she stood for and how she conducted her life as a youth," he said.

Karen Wildcat, chief organizer of the event, said she hopes the annual event will grow in coming years to include more participants from outside Maskwasis so St. Kateri, who is also the patron of the environment and ecology, will be more widely known.