VATICAN CITY –– Wearing Native American beads and feathers, Hawaiian leis, classic Filipino shirts, or German dirndls, Catholics from around the globe gathered in St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the recognition of seven new saints.
One of the pilgrims who came to celebrate the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakawita Oct. 21 was Blessed Sacrament Father Dana Pelotte, twin brother of the late Bishop Donald E. Pelotte of Gallup, N.M., the first American Indian bishop of the United States.
“I think the canonization will have a tremendous spiritual effect on the native peoples — I really do. Being a native person has so much spiritual beauty,” and the canonization of Kateri, the first indigenous saint of North America, will strengthen that, said the priest, whose father was of Abenaki descent.
Attending a reception sponsored by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in the Vatican Museums’ garden Oct. 19, Father Pelotte was constantly approached by American Indian pilgrims who told him of their love for his brother and how pleased he would be by the canonization. “I know he’s here in spirit with us today,” Father Pelotte told each one of them.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, told Catholic News Service that he and his fellow Native American Catholics have been praying for St. Kateri’s canonization for a very long time.
The saint was born to an Algonquin Christian mother and a Mohawk father, who died when she was young. She resisted strong pressure from the Mohawks to abandon her faith, so she could be considered a model for those facing religious persecution, the archbishop said.
St. Kateri, who died in 1680 at the age of 24, also is a model for the new evangelization, Archbishop Chaput said. “She was a young, vibrant member of her community, but she was different from the rest of them because of her unique personal relationship with Jesus Christ, which is what sanctity is generally about — it’s about taking Christ seriously in a personal way, in a way that goes beyond where most of us go.”
Clarence “Boogie” Kahilihwa and Gloria Marks were two of nine patient-residents who came to the canonization from Kalaupapa, Hawaii, where the new St. Marianne Cope ministered among people with Hansen’s disease, which is commonly called leprosy.
Kahilihwa said St. Marianne left as her legacy “how she felt toward humanity,” and that her message is “never underestimate” the value of person, no matter what their sickness is; “and don’t be afraid to challenge the unchallenged and down low.”
“I could have gone out a long time ago, but I chose to stay” to help care for older members of the community, he said.
Kahilihwa also said part of St. Marianne’s legacy is the affirmation that there is no such thing as “a leper,” because leprosy “is a disease, not a person.”
Marks, like Kahilihwa, came to Rome in 2009 for the canonization of St. Damien de Veuster of Molokai, who founded the Kalaupapa community and who later was among those cared for by St. Marianne.
“I’m really proud because (there are) two of them from the same county, the smallest county in Hawaii,” she said. “Those two put Hawaii on the map. So it’s very, very important to us.”
U.S. citizens and residents also turned out in large numbers for the canonization of St. Pedro Calungsod, a Philippine teenager and catechist who was martyred in 1672 in Guam, which is a territory of the United States.
At a thanksgiving Mass Oct. 22 at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agana, Guam, called St. Pedro a wonderful model for Catholic youth. “May it never be said that we who had the privilege of witnessing the canonization of San Pedro did not make it heaven!” he told the pilgrims, who included many young people.
The archbishop, who concelebrated the Mass with retired Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, Philippines, composed a song in honor of St. Pedro 12 years ago on the occasion of the youth’s beatification. Archbishop Apuron sang it during the homily, demonstrating that he, too, saw the martyred saint as a model.
“San Pedro proclaimed his faith using human means to attract the Chamorros (native people of Guam) through the use of visual aids, putting the doctrines and teachings to music so as to enable the natives to learn the doctrines of the church more easily,” Archbishop Apuron said.
Discalced Augustinian Father Alex Remolino, a Philippine priest working in Rome, said that in addition to being a model for youth, “St. Pedro is a patron saint of our emigrants.”
St. Pedro left the Philippines to work with the Jesuits in Guam, and he carried his faith with him, just as many Philippine emigrants do today when they go abroad to study or work, he said.
“Faith is part of our DNA,” Father Remolino said. “Wherever we go, we bring the Gospel. It’s not just part of our culture, but part of our character.”
Contributing to this story were Carol Glatz and Francis X. Rocca.