Visit to the shrine of St. Kateri “Lily of the Mohawks”
Let’s start with St. Kateri, who was born in what is now upstate New York and who died in 1680 near Montreal, Canada, after a short life... She was canonized Sunday in St. Peter’s Square by Pope Benedict XVI on the 21st of October 2012. To be honest, I didn’t know much about St. Kateri until about two weeks ago when she was being mentioned on Canadian televisions, newspapers with regard to the imminent canonisation. Giving that we were on Reading Week, on Wednesday after the canonisation, some of us here in the house decided to pay a visit to Montreal and make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Kateri in Kahnawake.
So who was Kateri? The “Lily of the Mohawks” was a virgin of the Mohawk tribe. She was born to a Mohawk father and Christian Algonquin mother. Her parents and brother died of smallpox when she was four years old, and so she was adopted by her aunt. Smallpox still dotted her face and impaired her eyesight. Despite these obstacles, Tekakwitha (her name before baptism) shunned all marriage proposals and lived chastely. In 1667, Jesuit missionaries arrived at her tribe, and it was then that she converted to Christianity, accepting baptism later. Ostracised and abused by relatives for her faith, Tekakwitha escaped to a cabin where she practiced austere mortifications and is said to have experienced union with God in prayer, devoting herself to a life of piety, chastity and corporal mortification. Upon her death, a devotion to her started immediately among her people. Today many pilgrims visit her grave in Caughnawaga (Kahnawake), Quebec where a monument to her memory was erected in 1884.
There was something very beautiful about the Shrine. Maybe because it was still free from the commercial aspects which can often envelop the cult of the saints. It was a very quiet and peaceful place, situated alongside a river and right in the heart of a neighbourhood. We had time to visit the museum which was deeply insightful in understanding the background from which Kateri came. Even the various pieces of artwork throughout the centuries show us the varying depictions, both devotional and cultural, which have surrounded this young saint.
In the words of Pope Benedict XVI on the day of her canonisation, may we too pray: “Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in North America, may God bless the first nations.”
Photo gallery (thanks to Fr. Ken for some of these photos in the gallery!)
Short Video of St. Kateri
Full video of the Canonisation Mass on the 21st of October 2012