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Catholic Culture, Native Roots View Comments
By John Feister

Incense flows and cultural symbols show at a Mass honoring St. Kateri at the religious education congress. Dan Lopez is an incense bearer, third from right.
When the news of Kateri Tekakwitha’s approval for canonization reached the West Coast, there was much cause for celebration. For decades, even centuries, Catholics of Native American heritage longed for a time when one of their own would join the ranks of those whose holiness is publicly, universally acknowledged. At the Religious Education Congress for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in February of this year, the excitement was palpable.

Native American Catholics, living among the many cultures of California, have promoted Kateri and, more important, an expression of Catholicism with roots in Native American culture for many years. At the annual Congress, attended by about 40,000 religious educators primarily from the West Coast, the City of Angels Kateri Circle would staff an informational booth, and each year there was a eucharistic liturgy that incorporated elements of Native American culture.

Now their moment was arriving. “I mean it’s been many years,” says Dan Lopez. He’s one of the leaders of Los Angeles’ Kateri Circle. The 60- year-old talks of how his family, from Texas, suppressed their identity as Native Americans to blend in with the people around them. “I joined the circle almost 20 years ago,” he recalls. “When I found the circle, it allowed me to embrace my Tiqua tribal identity even more, our culture, as well as being Catholic.”

He is awestruck at news of the canonization: “Think about it: the first American Indian to be canonized. Yes, it’s very big for us. It’s something we’ve prayed for, wished for, and it’s coming true. It’s hard to put in words what you feel, but she’s led us this way.”

Dan is quick to add that Kateri will now take her place as a saint for everybody. Initially he had balked at her being canonized in Rome. “Why not at her burial grounds?” he asked a priest friend. When he heard the explanation that a celebration at the heart of Catholicism would symbolize the universality of her message, he rejoiced. “She’s not only for us; she’s for everybody,” Dan explains. “Her innocence and how she took Christ and didn’t understand but learned and loved—that’s what brought us here now.”

He credits St. Kateri with bringing him back to the Church 25 years ago. “Through her, and when we found her, she drew us closer to the Church. She drew us closest to the humanity of all amongst us,” he recounts. “All of us are the same.”

It is the purity of Kateri that means the most to Dan. “Her innocence says it all,” he observes, and her holiness is for everyone: “She cared for all. It doesn’t matter what color skin we are, what race we are, what nationality we are. As a Native, we say we have a red path that God develops for us. Everybody has a path. We are a tree with many branches. And we’re all leading to one spot. That spot is heaven, is Father, Christ, all. Praying through her, we pray to Christ. Through her we enter into Christ.”


John Feister is editor in chief of this publication. He has master’s degrees in humanities and in theology from Xavier University, Cincinnati.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.


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