Pope starts Americas tour that features Indian Saints

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TORONTO ? Pope John Paul II will canonize or beatify three American Indians on his Americas tour, but the cause for a fourth candidate for sainthood, the 17th-century Algonquin/Mohawk maiden Kateri Tekakwitha, is still waiting on "a first-class miracle."

Kateri, who lived from 1656 to 1680, was declared the patron of the World Youth Days in Toronto, which wound up July 28 with a Papal mass in Toronto's Sacristy. A Papal announcement of her canonization, which was widely hoped for earlier this year, was not forthcoming, however.

On July 31, the Pope celebrates a mass in Mexico City at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe to canonize Juan Diego, the first Indian saint in the Catholic Church. On Aug. 1, he will celebrate another mass in the Basilica to beatify Juan Bautista and Jacinto de los Angeles, Indians martyred in 1700 in southern Oaxaca state. Beatification is a step toward sainthood in the lengthy procedures of the Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul II beatified Kateri in 1980, and her following, particularly widespread among North American Indians, has been petitioning ever since for her sainthood.

"We had hoped about a year ago there would be a proclamation saying [the Pope] would canonize her at the World Youth Day," said Sister Kateri Mitchell, executive director of the Tekakwitha Conference National Center in Great Falls, Mont.. "But it will not be happening."

Sister Kateri, a native of the St. Regis (Akwesasne) Mohawk Reservation, said, "We are still waiting, and Rome is too, for that first-class miracle."

She said Vatican investigators had ruled out an episode two and a half years ago in which a Cochiti Indian Pueblo woman in New Mexico had awakened from a 16-year coma after her former mother-in-law had offered prayers on her behalf to Kateri Tekakwitha. After reviewing medical records, the investigators had concluded the event could be explained, however remotely, by natural causes and not solely by divine intervention.

Kateri was born in 1656 at a Mohawk village called Ossernenon along the Mohawk River near what is now Auriesville, N.Y. Her mother was a Catholic Christian Algonquin and her father was traditional Mohawk. A smallpox epidemic wiped out her family when she was four, but she survived in a physically weakened state. She is now the patron of victims of smallpox and other scourges.

She was baptized in 1676 and fled her village the next year for a St. Francis Xavier mission near Montreal after meeting hostility toward her religion from her relatives. She died in 1680 at the age of 24.

Auriesville is now home to a shrine for Kateri and three Jesuit martyrs and headquarters for the American vice-postulate for her cause, Fr. John Peret. Because of the large volume of pilgrims passing through the shrine on the way to the World Youth Day, Fr. Peret was not available for an interview at press time. "We have 21 bus-loads in the parking lot," said a spokesman for the shrine.

After the close of World Youth day, some 2000 Catholic American Indians were expected to gather at Michigan State University in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the 63rd annual Tekakwitha National Conference.