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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.”

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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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John Paul II: “Open wide the doors to Christ,” urged John Paul II during the homily at the Mass when he was installed as pope in 1978. <br /><br />Born in Wadowice, Poland, Karol Jozef Wojtyla had lost his mother, father and older brother before his 21st birthday. Karol’s promising academic career at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University was cut short by the outbreak of World War II. While working in a quarry and a chemical factory, he enrolled in an “underground” seminary in Kraków. Ordained in 1946, he was immediately sent to Rome where he earned a doctorate in theology. <br /><br />Back in Poland, a short assignment as assistant pastor in a rural parish preceded his very fruitful chaplaincy for university students. Soon he earned a doctorate in philosophy and began teaching that subject at Poland’s University of Lublin. <br /><br />Communist officials allowed him to be appointed auxiliary bishop of Kraków in 1958, considering him a relatively harmless intellectual. They could not have been more wrong! <br /><br />He attended all four sessions of Vatican II and contributed especially to its <em>Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World</em>. Appointed as archbishop of Kraków in 1964, he was named a cardinal three years later. <br /><br />Elected pope in October 1978, he took the name of his short-lived, immediate predecessor. Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. In time, he made pastoral visits to 124 countries, including several with small Christian populations. <br /><br />He promoted ecumenical and interfaith initiatives, especially the 1986 Day of Prayer for World Peace in Assisi. He visited Rome’s Main Synagogue and the Western Wall in Jerusalem; he also established diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Israel. He improved Catholic-Muslim relations and in 2001 visited a mosque in Damascus, Syria. <br /><br />The Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, a key event in John Paul’s ministry, was marked by special celebrations in Rome and elsewhere for Catholics and other Christians. Relations with the Orthodox Churches improved considerably during his ministry as pope. <br /><br />“Christ is the center of the universe and of human history” was the opening line of his 1979 encyclical, <em>Redeemer of the Human Race</em>. In 1995, he described himself to the United Nations General Assembly as “a witness to hope.” <br /><br />His 1979 visit to Poland encouraged the growth of the Solidarity movement there and the collapse of communism in central and eastern Europe 10 years later. He began World Youth Day and traveled to several countries for those celebrations. He very much wanted to visit China and the Soviet Union but the governments in those countries prevented that. <br /><br />One of the most well-remembered photos of his pontificate was his one-on-one conversation in 1983 with Mehmet Ali Agca, who had attempted to assassinate him two years earlier. <br /><br />In his 27 years of papal ministry, John Paul II wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people. <br /><br />In the last years of his life, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and was forced to cut back on some of his activities. <br /><br />Pope Benedict XVI beatified John Paul II in 2011, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014. American Catholic Blog Lord, may I have balance and measure in everything—except in Love. —St. Josemaría Escrivá

 
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