Some weeks ago I heard that the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church has announced the canonization of seven new saints. In that time I did not actually pay much attention on the news but then Ramona told me about one of these brand new saints who was special: she was the fourth saint of Native American origin. Yes, she was a Christian Canadian aboriginal woman who has been worshipped by many people for ages and is now finally a saint. Sounds funny but that is one of the strange ways religion can go.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was a girl born in 1665 to a Mohawk chief and a Roman Catholic Algonquin who had herself been baptized by French missionaries. It was however not her Christian mother due to whom Kateri became Christian. After her parents died of smallpox, an illness gave her scars in the face and damaged her eyesight, she was brought up by her uncle in the traditional Mohawk ways. When the French attacked the Mohawk and defeated them however, the Mohawks were forced to accept a peace treaty that allowed Jesuit missionaries in their villages. So that is how Christian missionaries forced their way into Native American tribes and spread their own message.
This girl was one of them who was interested in the Christian stories of Jesus, heaven and so on. Her uncle and her tribe were opposing her conversion – which seems rather understandable – and she fled to a mission where she died at the age of 24.
Now why is this young woman, who is also called Lilly of the Mohawks, now a saint and people are allowed to worship her as one? She was, for one, very religious: she vowed that she would remain a virgin until her death, she encouraged others in her faith and she even practiced mortification. This was something she and some of her friends did even though discouraged from the clergymen around them. They wanted to go the path of religious and thought they were not allowed by the Jesuits to do it all! So she slept on a bed with thorns, flogged herself and even burned herself with hot coals.
After her death however, the miracles started. Her face had been covered with scars of smallpox but the people present at her death claimed it all vanished once she died. Three people, her mentor, her friend and her priest told of apparitions, that they had seen or heard her even after her death. And then of course there are those people who, since only a few years after her death, have attributed healing powers to her relics. The latest one was finally the one that convinced the Catholic Church that she should be canonized.
I wrote about the ridiculous and superstitious process of canonization last year already and there is not much to add to my general opinion but in this case I need to address a few more points.
It is striking that this was a Native American woman who was converted to Christianity. Many people would say that Native Americans have seen too much blood in their history to be really happy about this. It seems ironic – at first you kill thousands of us and force many of us to give up their traditional beliefs, thinking we are barbarians and uncivilized, and then you make one of our women a saint to worship? Of course many Catholics of Native American origin will be happy about this symbolic action but I just find it absurd, especially with the Pope’s words: ‘May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are’ – did Christians really help people not denying who they were?
If you read about the missionaries in Canada in that time you can read that those women were not always following the advice of the priests who were supposed to guide them. They wanted more and form convents on their own but were not allowed to. They were told about sins and Kateri herself started overdoing it – just as you hear about Martin Luther when he was a young monk. They were very obviously embracing the idea of Jesus, the person of love, but were confused and could not cope with the whole religious idea of sin and punishment around it. That is the work of religion, and in this case Christianity, when they go out to convert people of other belief.
What I really had to wonder about though was the description of one of those miracles that were attributed to her: a Protestant boy who had caught smallpox was treated by the Jesuits. They told him that they would use her relics to help him recover if he became a Roman Catholic. When he agreed, they allegedly healed him with a piece of her coffin! So what does this say about this new saint? She, herself a converted woman, only helps those of the correct faith? What a nice message to give to others, especially Native Americans who would consider praying to this woman, simply because of her origins and alleged healing abilities. But the Catholic Church does not want to give this healing benefit to people of other faith! They want to get as many followers themselves, so if you are sick, you will only be healed by a Catholic Saint if you are Catholic!
People sometimes think Christianity is much more modern than Hinduism simply because they have refused the Roman and Greek multitude of Gods. This kinds of stories show again however that it is all the same nonsense – and now the Catholic Church has a Native American Saint to show off with!