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April 17: Feast Day of St. Kateri

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656 – April 17, 1680), was known as “Lily of the Mohawks.” April 17 marks her Feast Day as a patron saint of ecology.

With Earth Day also occurring this month, this is a perfect opportunity to focus on St. Kateri’s legacy and far-reaching contributions: How can we bring joy to Mother Earth and honour one of our patron saints of ecology?

A Young Life Marked by Upheaval

In a life fraught with difficulty, Kateri held close her convictions and was the first Native American woman to be canonized. Although she was born in what is now upstate New York, Canada has proudly claimed her as one of our own. The role of Kateri as a patron of ecology goes beyond how many view her typical role.

With an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, both of whom passed away from small pox, Kateri fled her adoptive family and persecution and found shelter near Montreal.

While we recognize her today as a strong-minded role model who wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed, we can do much more to honour her legacy by including the role of Indigenous People in Canadian history, geography, ecology and Church teachings. 

Righting Wrongs

We are keen to develop a better understanding of events that occurred before, during and after St. Kateri lifetime. For instance: the taking of land from people who had lived on it for thousands of years and efforts to strip their language and culture. These were intentional acts – acts which often resulted in others seeing Indigenous People as “less than.”

Based on recent dialogue from Catholic communities around the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, we have been made more aware of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous People.

Today, we work to help right wrongs by bringing to light issues surrounding Indigenous Peoples’ health and welfare, such as: oil pipes, overflowing poison from tar sands, and construction and pollution from industry.

According to Development and Peace/Caritas Canada, the Catholic response to Call to Action 48 concludes with an “appeal to all our Catholic brothers and sisters – laity, members of institutes of consecrated life and of societies of apostolic life, deacons, priests, and Bishops” …to… ‘Continue to walk together with Indigenous Peoples in building a more just society where their gifts and those of all people are nurtured and honoured’.” 

Prayer for St. Kateri

Sister Gwen Smith offers the following prayer for the Earth and Indigenous People:

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, we thank you for deepening our faith by being an example of the inclusive, creative love of God. We ask you to help us love in the same way you responded.

We ask that you heal our blindness to the First Nations, just as you were healed at your death of the scars of foreign disease, smallpox.

We ask you to strengthen us with the courage to take action to right the wrongs done to your people.

Amen.

Sister Gwen Smith

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