Native Americans celebrate first Catholic sainthood

(CBS News) VATICAN CITY - At the Vatican Sunday, two women who lived in America were elevated to sainthood. One did her work in Hawaii, and the other was a Mohawk from upstate New York -- the first Native American canonized.

St Peter's Square has seen every kind of Catholic ceremony there is, but this one broke the mould. For the first time, Native Americans were here in force.

The draw was the first of their people ever to be proclaimed a saint.

Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in what is now upstate New York. Disfigured and partially blinded by smallpox, she was thrown out of her tribe when she converted to Christianity at age 20, and died four years later. She came to be known as the "Lily of the Mohawks".

For Gerald Tukwin, a Native American from Potawatomi, Kansas, it was the culmination of a dream.

"I thought a lot of our ancestors are probably really excited this day, although they've already passed on they got to be happy with us and what's taken place here in the Vatican," Tukwin said.

The church sees saints as way of rekindling faith.

Making the grade as a saint can take years, sometimes centuries. The most important criteria is miracles: One to be to be beatified; a second to reach sainthood.

Twelve year-old Jake Finkbonner from Washington State is Tekakwitha's second. Stricken with a flesh-eating disease at age five, he was inexplicably cured after his parents prayed to her.

The elevation of Mother Marianne Cope, who worked in the leper colony in Molokai, Hawaii, until her death in 1918, brings the total of American saints to twelve.

Benedict praised the new saints as "heroic and courageous examples".

Coincidentally or not, their canonization came as Catholic bishops are meeting here to find ways to revive Christianity in places where it is fading.

  • Allen Pizzey

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