New saints underscore Pope’s sense of mission
POPE Benedict created seven saints yesterday, including the first Native American to becanonised, as the Roman Catholic Church reaches out to its global flock to rebuff encroaching secularism.
The celebration of figures who had suffered to promote the faith came as the church began a drive to reclaim flagging congregations in former strongholds in the face of sex abuse scandals and dissent against church teachings.
Thousands of pilgrims converged in St Peter’s Square to witness the ceremony recognising the saints, who included Kateri Tekakwitha, a sixteenth-century convert known as Lily of the Mohawks.
The crowd included hundreds of pilgrims from the United States’ 2.5 million-strong Native American population, of whom 680,000 are estimated to be Catholic, a legacy of the success of early missionaries in converting indigenous people in North America.
Among them was 12-year-old Jake Finkbonner who survived a potentially fatal flesh-eating virus, which the Vatican attributed to miraculous intervention by Saint Kateri.
Many pilgrims waved the flag of the Philippines and held portraits of Pedro Calungsod, a teenager killed performing missionary work in 1672 on the Marianas Islands in the Pacific, who became the second Filipino saint.
Others, in traditional German dirndl dresses and leather shorts, cheered as Benedict welcomed them in his native tongue.
Portraits of the new saints, including French Jesuit Jacques Berthieu, Italian priest Giovanni Battista Piamarta, the Spanish nun Carmen Salles y Barangueras, and German laywoman Anna Schaffer hung from the marble facade of St Peter’s Basilica, and the crowds cheered as each name was called.
“Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in North America! May God bless the first nations!” Pope Benedict said in his homily, in which he alternated between French, English, German and Italian.
Kateri, born in 1656 in what is now New York to a Mohawk father and an Algonquin mother, impressed missionaries with her devotion, taking a lifetime vow of chastity and punishing herself by placing hot coals between her toes and sleeping on a bed of thorns.
When she died at the age of 24, witnesses said smallpox scars on her face disappeared, and people reported seeing visions of her.
This began a centuries-old tradition of veneration culminating in her canonisation, bolstered by the survival of the Native American boy in 2006.
Jake Finkbonner, now 12 and recovered, travelled to Rome for the ceremony with hundreds of his Lummi tribe, from devout indigenous communities across the United States and Canada.
Five of the seven saints were important figures in the church’s history of missionary work, pointing to a theme for the church as it enters what Benedict has proclaimed a “year of faith”, aimed at countering the rise of secularism.
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