Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pope canonizes Roman Catholic's first Native American Saint

You can read the details here.  This is a big deal in any number of ways.  The Catholic Church is, frankly, not gaining any ground in Europe.  Within the next hundred, barring some great awakening, the churches in Europe will be more empty than they already are.  The practicing faithful will be reduced to a mere few to carry on the faith for the next generation.  Yes, people will be married and children will be baptized in churches, but that will be done more as a mere nod to tradition than an actual sincere proclamation of faith in the sacraments. 

The Roman Catholic Church is very aware of this and despite the outreach to Europe, the Pope and the hierarchy know that the future of Catholicism (if it has any future) is in the new world.  But even that mission is encountering resistance from Pentecostal and other Evangelical movements deliberately targeting Catholics.  I'm not trying to suggest that the Pope's canonization of the Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, is singly going to cause a boon for Catholicism in the New World, but it does make a radical statement that the Pope and the Roman Church simply cannot rely on Europe for the continued propagation of the faith.  I'm sure that new American saints, especially  Native American saints and not just European transplants, will be canonized more regularly during the remainder of Pope Benedict's pontificate as well as during his successor's. 

But why did this take so long?  Catholicism has been here in the "New World" for 500 years now.  There had to be other candidates for sainthood during this time.  I certainly grant that sainthood, canonized sainthood, is not something that just occurs, but is a long and arduous process.  If I may play the conspiracy theorist, I think that the Roman Church is, in many ways, trying to shed the image of it resembling an aristocratic European social club.  What point is there in retaining that image especially when the church is more or less in a holding action in Europe, almost bordering on retreat?  If the Americas and third world countries are the future for Catholicism, then these people need to know they are valued and for more beyond mere numbers.

Would it surprise you to know that the Orthodox Church already has two Native American saints?  Orthodoxy has been in America for less than half the time that Catholicism has, but we already have twice as many canonized saints.  They are St. Peter the Aleut and St. Jacob of the Yukon.  St. Peter was a martyr saint who bravely defended his Aleut people from being converted forcibly to Catholicism by the Jesuits.  St. Jacob was also an Aleut and was a famous evangelizer among his people.

1 comment:

  1. If I may offer a couple clarifications for accuracy: St. Kateri Tekakwitha is NOT the first or only American Indian saint and certainly not the first indigenous saint by any stretch. She is the first indigenous saint in the United States (she's also been named a patron saint of Canada).

    St. Juan Diego who saw the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 was a Nahua (Aztec) native who converted to Catholicism. He was canonized in 2002 along with two other Oaxacan Indians. He is important to the entire evangelization of Mexico. There is another candidate for beatification right now: Joseph Chiwatenhwa, a Huron convert to Catholicism who was martyred in Canada in 1640.

    I totally agree with you that the canonization of indigenous saints has taken place scandalously late in the broader history of the Church, but I do think that the current mission is an earnest attempt to minister to underserved populations. I read that one reason given for the dearth of ingigenous saints is a lack of documentation now required to canonize.

    I'm not sure you are aware, but Pope Benedict XVI also announced the canonization of six other saints at the same time as St. Kateri Tekakwitha: a French missionary to Madagascar St. Jacques Berthieu, an Italian priest St. Giovanni Battista Piamarta, a Spanish nun St. Carmen Salles Y Barangueras, a German laywoman St. Anna Schaeffer, a teenaged Filipino martyr St. Pedro Calungsod, and St. Marianne Cope, an American Franciscan nun who came after Fr. Damien to the Molokai leper colony. This doesn't seem to me like the Catholic Church has given up on Europe.