Monday, 22 October 2012

Kateri Tekakwitha becomes first Native American saint

Native Americans celebrate their new saint
Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints including Kateri Tekakwitha, who became the first Native American saint. I have compiled here, from various sources, a biography of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the "Lily of the Mohawks".


Kateri Tekakwitha was a young Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century. The story of her conversion to Christianity, her courage in the face of suffering and her extraordinary holiness is an inspiration to all Christians.

Kateri was born in 1656 of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Chief in the Mohawk fortified village of Canaouaga or Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville) in upstate New York. When she was only 4 years old her parents and brother died of smallpox. Kateri survived the disease, but it left her face badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. Because of her poor vision, Kateri was named "Tekakwitha", which means "she who bumps into things". Kateri was taken in by her uncle who was bitterly opposed to Christianity. Her mother was Christian and had given Tekakwitha a Rosary.

When she was 8 years old, Kateri's foster family, in accordance with Iroquois custom, paired her with a young boy who they expected she would marry. However, Kateri wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her uncle distrusted the settlers because of the way they treated the Indians and who were responsible for introducing smallpox and other deadly diseases into the Indian community.

When Kateri was ten, in 1666, a war party composed of French soldiers and hostile Indians from Canada destroyed her village. After their defeat, the Mohawks were forced into a peace treaty that required them to accept Jesuit missionaries in their villages.

They moved north and rebuilt their village at what they called Caughnawaga near present-day Fonda, New York. In 1667, when Kateri was 11 years old, she met the Jesuits Jacques Fremin, Jacques Bruyas, and Jean Pierron, who had come to the village. Her uncle was against any contact with them because he did not want her to convert to Christianity. One of his older daughters had already left Caughnawaga to go to Kahnawake, the Catholic mission village near Montreal.

In the spring of 1675 at age eighteen, while resting in bed after sustaining a foot injury, Kateri met the Jesuit Father Jacques de Lamberville and started studying the catechism with him. Judging her ready for true conversion, Lamberville baptized Tekakwitha at the age of 20, on Easter Sunday, April 18, 1676. Her uncle gave his consent for her to become a Christian provided that she did not try to leave the Indian village.

For joining the Catholic Church, Kateri was ridiculed and scorned by villagers. She was subjected to unfair accusations and her life was threatened. Nearly two years after her baptism, she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada. The village in Canada was also named Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). Here she was known for her gentleness, kindness, and good humour. On Christmas Day 1677 Kateri made her first holy communion and on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1679 made a vow of perpetual virginity. She also offered herself to the Blessed Mother Mary to accept her as a daughter.

During her time in Canada, Kateri taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She would often go to Mass both at dawn and sunset. She was known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Cross of Christ.

During the last years of her life, Kateri endured great suffering from a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday, and was buried in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.

Kateri's final words were: "Jesus — Mary — I love you"

Eyewitnesses reported that within a few minutes of her death, the scars from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with a radiant beauty.

Before her death, Kateri promised her friends that she would continue to love and pray for them in heaven. Both Native Americans and settlers immediately began praying for her heavenly intercession. Several people, including a priest who attended Kateri during her last illness, reported that Kateri had appeared to them and many healing miracles were attributed to her.

Reputed miracles

One recorded miracle was experienced by Joseph Kellogg, a Protestant child was captured by Natives in a raid, but eventually brought back to his home. Twelve months after he was kidnapped he caught smallpox and failed to be cured by the ordinary means used by the Jesuits. The Jesuits possessed relics from Tekakwitha’s grave, but did not want to use them on a non-Catholic. One Jesuit told him that if he would confess and truly embody a Roman Catholic, help would come to him and so Joseph did as asked. The Jesuit gave him rotten wood from Catherine’s coffin, which is said to have made him heal. Other alleged miracles attributed to Tekakwitha: Father Rémy recovered his hearing and a nun in Montreal was cured by using items formerly belonging to Kateri.

On December 19, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI approved the second miracle needed for Blessed Kateri's canonization. The authorized miracle dates from 2006, when a young boy in Washington state survived a severe flesh-eating bacterium. Doctors had been unable to stop the progress of the disease by surgery and advised his parents he was likely to die. The boy received the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick from a Catholic priest. As the boy is half Lummi Indian, the parents said they prayed through Tekakwitha for divine intercession, as did their family and friends, and an extended network contacted through their son's classmates. A Catholic nun, Sister Kateri Mitchell visited the boy's bedside and placed a relic of Tekakwitha, a bone fragment, against his body and prayed together with his parents. The next day, the infection stopped its progression.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Jimmy Savile: a tragic lesson for everyone

As the allegations of sexual abuse mount, it’s becoming increasingly apparent to a shocked nation that one of their most beloved television stars, the late Jimmy Savile, was in fact a paedophile. The television documentary a few weeks ago by former police detective Mark Williams-Thomas finally blew the cover on the other side of Jimmy Savile – the side the general public rarely got to see. Since then, of course, more and more of Savile’s  victims, who until now had been too scared or simply not been believed, have come forward to tell their stories. Currently there are 340 complaints to the police, and the number is increasing!

Now the question being asked is “why didn’t someone do something earlier?” Why has it taken so long for the truth to come out? It’s becoming increasingly clear that people who worked in the BBC had their suspicions of Jimmy Savile. Some even went so far as to raise matters with their superiors, but nothing was done. Savile was such a high profile and highly influential celebrity, who did so much for charity, that his image seemed impregnable. He was knighted by the Pope and by the Queen.

Victims of sexual abuse often take a long time to pluck up the courage to open up about what happened to them. Feelings of fear, guilt and shame plague them for years. If they were molested when they were young, they may not even have understood what happened to them at the time. Only years later do they realise that they were abused. There is the fear that if they tell someone that they might not be believed. Then there’s the worry of what others might think of them. So it’s not surprising they open up after considerable time.

As the details of Savile’s predatory behaviour emerge, he appears to have been the worst kind of offender, using his celebrity status to maximum effect to prey on young vulnerable girls. But there were clues. In his interviews, especially the ones toward the end of his life, there were ominous hints about the dark side of his character. He wanted to be like King Solomon with a 1,000 wives. In another interview, recorded in a restaurant in Leeds, he talks about sharing a meal with a young girl he finds very attractive and can’t help lusting over. Although I can understand the general public being fooled, I find it difficult to believe that those who knew him on a personal level didn’t suspect anything.

My feeling is that people close to him did have serious fears, but chose to ignore them. They went along with the accepted consensus that he was a lovely man, who did a lot for charity, and was fond of children but nothing more than that. He was perhaps a little eccentric, but aren’t other celebrities too? They didn’t realise that this was a deception that Savile was spinning himself.
The BBC rightfully deserves criticism for not investigating allegations of abuse by Savile much earlier. However, as Fr Lucie-Smith in the Catholic Herald explains, there is all too familiar tendency in human beings to deny shocking offences when confronted with what they know to be wrong. Drawing parallels between the Savile case and recent instances of child abuse within the Catholic Church, he says “things that are too awful to think about do lead people to bury their heads in the sand.” He adds:
“When the German government in the mid-1930s turned against German citizens of Jewish extraction, no one, or hardly anyone, protested. They pretended Kristallnacht somehow had not happened. They went on to ignore Auschwitz. By then they had a massive stake in denial.”
It often takes a lot of courage to go against the grain of accepted consensus and speak out against evil.

This leads me to my next point, which is the media coverage of this story. Isn’t it hypocritical that on their front pages, newspapers like The Sun are scolding the BBC for being a “cesspit” of immorality, yet the very same papers rely on highly sexualised content to sell their products? It was after all the media that created the celebrity figure of Jimmy Savile, colluded with him while he was alive, and it is now the media tearing up every shred of his reputation while he is dead. There is the smell of hypocrisy all around.

The British media often indulges in paroxysms of self-righteous rage. Yet it is better to realise that evil exists everywhere and in everyone, not just in aberrations like the late Jimmy Savile. Sadly the concept of sin has largely gone out of the window in our modern day society of moral relativism. If sin and evil are not fought closer to home early on – within everyone on of us – it is no wonder they can grow and have tragic consequences as in the case of Jimmy Savile.