Catholics walk the ground traveled by new Native American saint
Twelve-year-old Jake Finkbonner leaned over and ran his hand through a pool of water from a natural spring at the National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, in Fonda, N.Y.. With that simple gesture, on a recent July weekend, the boy connected literally to the story of the 17th-century Native American woman who the Roman Catholic Church will elevate to sainthood on Oct. 21.
Jake had already connected to her story in what he believes is a miraculous way. The boy’s inexplicable recovery from a flesh-eating illness in 2006 is attributed to prayers to Kateri (pronounced Gad-a-lee in Mohawk) on his behalf.
Jake, who is of Lummi descent, said he’s gotten used to the attention he draws when people learn he’s at the center of the miracle that led the Vatican to decide to proclaim Kateri a saint — a step that will make her one of the church’s holy role models, and the first Native American to be canonized.
He likes to read and play basketball, and he loves video games. He and his 10-year-old sister, Miranda, are also training to become altar servers.
“I feel a great amount of gratitude and thanks to her,” Jake said of Kateri.
The spring in upstate New York is believed to be where Kateri Tekakwitha was baptized and formally became a Christian on Easter Sunday in 1676. That spring water supplied the Mohawk village where Kateri lived for 11 years. Jake and his family filled several bottles with water from the spring to take back to their Ferndale, Wash., home.
The Finkbonners were among hundreds of people visiting the Kateri shrine and the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, in Auriesville, N.Y., as part of the 73rd Annual Tekakwitha Conference that took place in mid-July in nearby Albany.
The Tekakwitha Conference is based in Great Falls, Mont., and is the only Catholic Native American/Aboriginal religious organization in North America. An estimated 680,000 Native American Catholics live in the United States, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In addition to an annual conference, the group sponsors dozens of local Native Catholic groups, known as Kateri Circles. The conference’s theme this year was “Walking in Her Footsteps in Kateri Country.” [more]