Monday, 22 October 2012

Lily of the Mohawks


St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the new gal in town

Of the seven new saints canonised by the Pope on October 21, possibly the most unique and attention-grabbing is the Native American woman Kateri Tekakwitha.

I recall of getting to know Blessed Kateri some months ago. I've forgotten what I was reading on the net, all I know is it was a coincidence ("Well nothing is a coincidence, honey," thus saith the Lord). I think it was a random Catholic blog that mentions her as the blog's patroness. Kateri had not been canonised then, and to be honest I have a teeny wee problem about asking for intercession from someone who hasn't been officially declared a saint, so I just thought, "Wow how nice to know that there's a Native American who was a faithful Catholic... if only she was a saint!"

Lo and behold, a saint she became.

It's not hard to find out the reason why I am so drawn to this young woman. First, Kateri was a member of an indigenous tribe that practises local beliefs, namely animism and magic. This kind of spirituality is close to most Indonesians' hearts, even those who have adhered to an organised religion, and many tribes here still actually practise animism and magic, both the "white" and "dark" ones. Having a friend in heaven who truly understands the difficulties of talking to this group of people is tremendously encouraging. And who knows, maybe she's got some tips and tricks she could lend me if I ask her in prayer.

Secondly, Kateri is a radical proof of the universality of the Church. A lot of non-westerners think Christianity is foreign because it's a "western religion", what with all the western missionaries, Caucasian-looking statues of the saints, and the profoundly Roman liturgy. And if you think this is a Catholic problem, think about Pentecostal communities who sing nothing but English-language Hillsong tracks during their services. Or the Reformed communities where the word "church" recalls in mind an ultra-modern fiberglass building sitting majestically in the middle of a wealthy area. Soooo western, isn't it.

Please don't get me wrong, I have no problem with all these "western" things, because I know Christianity is anything but western (or eastern or southern or northern). But I need to say that other people might get it wrong, to the point that it becomes an impediment to someone's conversion.

Looking at the face of Kateri Tekakwitha, however, clears up this prejudice. True Christianity, that is, the Catholic Faith, is universal; it has its roots in Judaism, but it is not exclusively linked to the Jewish ethnicity, like Hinduism to the people of India and Taoism to the people of China. The Catholic Faith is celebrated in many cultures and many tongues, in every nook and cranny of the earth, including in the heart of an Algonquin-Mohawk. And consequently, any Catholics regardless of their upbringings, can become a saint. That's because the Kingdom of God is a real multiethnic country.

Thirdly, and this is the most personal reason: Kateri is different. She doesn't wear a nun robe, a medieval dress, a Jewish robe, or a crown. Not that these are bad of course; the three saints after whom I am named are a nun, a Jewish woman, and a princess. But I like people who are different, in a positive way. Being different is refreshing, and often inspiring. It shows that you don't have to change who you are to be a good Christian. You can, and should, remain a cheerful humorist, a serious bookworm, a charming royalty, a Pocahontas... only in a better version. God will lift up your personality, your talents, your entire identity to a sanctified level, to be used for the benefits of the Kingdom. Kateri is much like Joan of Arc, only more... tribal :)

Welcome to the sky club, Miss Kateri Tekakwitha!

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