New saints have been longtime guides

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WASHINGTON - For Herman Ray, a Native American from Arizona, and Franciscan Sister Margaret Christi Karwowski, currently living in the Washington Archdiocese, the canonization of two Americans last Oct. 21 - Sts. Kateri Tekakwitha and Marianne Cope - confirmed something they already knew: the holiness of two remarkable women.

"She has been my guide in many ways," Sister Margaret Christi said about St. Marianne, a Sister of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, N.Y., who ministered both in education and caring for the sick.

While Ray explained his belief that St. Kateri "has made a big influence on my life - thanks to her I believe I can be a Native American and still be Catholic."

About a thousand faithful joined Ray and Sister Margaret Christi, 11 bishops from across the United States and two from Canada, and more than 30 priests and deacons the afternoon of Jan. 26 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for a Mass of thanksgiving for the canonization of the two women.

Among those at the Mass were people of Mohawk, Tuscarora, Tohono O'odham and Pima Indian heritage.

Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl was the principal celebrant, while Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered the homily.

"I love both of the saints and I'm honored to speak about both today," said Archbishop Chaput, who is both a Franciscan - he is a Capuchin - and a Native American. He is a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

He noted the many examples of holy women throughout Christian history from Mary, to those women who helped Jesus and his disciples, to the strong and faithful saints including the Catholic Church's first indigenous saint from the United States - St. Kateri.

"The unique genius of women has always been their way to embody Christian love - real love, the kind that takes courage, endures suffering and is consistent," Archbishop Chaput said.

The archbishop said although both saints lived centuries apart, both understood the cost of being an outcast and the sacrifices of being disciples.

Born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief father in what is today upstate New York, St. Kateri lost both parents and her brother to smallpox and was raised by relatives.

Scarred by the disease, eventually Kateri, the "Lily of the Mohawks," was baptized in 1676. The young woman joined a Christian community of Native Americans where she was determined to live as a Christian and remain a virgin despite harassment from her people.

"The zeal of her young faith had a profound impact on the Jesuit missionaries" explained Archbishop Chaput. Those Jesuit priests soon began reporting miracles attributed to Kateri and witnessed after her death April 17, 1680, at age 24.

St. Marianne was born in Germany and immigrated to New York where in 1862 she entered what is now called the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. According to Archbishop Chaput, Marianne "excelled in hospital work and in the intense commitment to serving the sick." In 1877, she was elected superior general of the order. Six years later, she took six volunteers to the Hawaiian islands to care for those suffering from Hansen's disease, also known as leprosy.

Only intending to help the volunteers set up their ministry, St. Marianne served for 35 years among the outcasts on the islands including working with St. Damian de Veuster until his death in 1889 and continuing his ministry. St. Marianne died Aug. 9, 1918, after "a lifetime of service to the most outcast and feared," said Archbishop Chaput.

Calling participants at the Mass to reflect on the Scripture readings referencing marriage and the symbol of the love in marriage, he described the two saints as faithful spouses of God. "God never tires of pursuing us, the saints, or those who allow themselves to be pursued by God," Archbishop Chaput said.

"Through the canonization of these two women, the church gives us two wise virgins to lead us in our own processions to the wedding feast of the lamb," he said.

After the Mass many participants prayed before two reliquaries placed near the altar, containing relics of the saints. Some paused to look at two large banners depicting the saints that previously hung in St. Peter's Square last October.

For Ray, St. Kateri serves as a "bridge to both peoples, so they can understand each other." He told the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Washington Archdiocese, that he speaks about how St. Kateri changed his life to fellow parishioners at St. Theresa's Parish in Phoenix. "She's not only for Native Americans."

Ray said combining his Native American spirituality with the Catholic faith "is just wonderful - it makes you stronger."

While Sister Margaret Christi, most recently a teacher at Trinity Washington University, said she uses St. Marianne's example when working with students who have challenges. The Franciscan said she sees "hope in the faces of students' whose challenges are unfathomable just as the saint saw hope in the face of victims of Hansen's disease."

She said she was thrilled St. Marianne was included in what she described as an "uplifting" national celebration. The liturgy - scheduled to be broadcast on the Eternal Word Television Network - would help get the saints' message out, said Sister Margaret Christi.

"We continue to need to spread the faith, to reach out to the poor, the suffering, the outcasts," she said. "Catholics especially have that mission - that Gospel mandate to teach, to welcome and to heal."

Pruzinsky Mumola writes for the Catholic Standard, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970