The sun was shining on St. Peter's Square Sunday morning as close to 100,000 pilgrims from around the world got together to hear stories about faith, hope and love. Yes, Catholics can go about their day to day lives just fine without the saints but without them, there's something missing. Kind of like not knowing that wonderful relative who passed on before you got a chance to really get to know them.
Those who aren't Catholic often wonder what the big deal is about saints? Who needs them? Why ask for the intercession of someone that lived 300 years ago who you never met? Well to us, faith is about sharing a connection that dates back some 2000 years - it's not about having to physically encounter a person, it's recognizing the fact that over time as much as things change they also stay the same. For all the advances over the years, In essence our story remains one of faith, hope and love.
There was plenty of that on display in St. Peter's Square today. With Canadian pilgrims from Edmonton and Montreal lining up at 3 a.m. to secure front row seats, the day was a chance to say thank you to the newest saints of the Catholic Church, our heroes or all star team as it were. While we've focused plenty of attention in this space on now St. Kateri Tekakwitha, it's worth noting, as did Pope Benedict, a small reflection on the lives of each one of the new saints, who experienced very different paths on the road to sainthood. Below you'll find a quick snapshot courtesy of Agence-France Presse:
Dubbed the “Lily of the Mohawks.” Tekakwitha has been a symbol of hope for American Indians for centuries. She was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, and converted by Jesuit missionaries as a child. After surviving smallpox and being orphaned, the young woman, nearly blind, earned a following for her deep spiritualism before dying at just 24. Tradition holds that her smallpox scars vanished at the time of her death in 1680 – considered a miracle that paved the way for her beatification in 1943. Sainthood was assured when Pope Benedict XVI approved a second miracle last year, the full recovery of an 11-year-old Native American boy from a flesh-eating bacterium after his parents prayed for divine intercession through Tekakwitha in 2006.
A 17th-century missionary, he became the Philippines’ second saint. He was named the country’s new patron saint of youth, as he is believed to have been just 17 when he was murdered in Guam in 1672 while attempting to convert natives. Calungsod was beatified as a martyr in 2000. He qualified for sainthood last year after the Vatican officially recognised a 2003 miracle in which a 49-year-old Filipina woman declared dead from a heart attack was revived after a doctor prayed to Calungsod for help.
He was a French Jesuit missionary who was killed in 1896 during a rebellion in Madagascar. Rebels had kidnapped him and demanded that he renounce his faith or die. He refused and was shot dead on the spot.
A native of Germany, she was a mystic who spent her life bedridden after badly burning her legs in a boiler. She had wanted to become a missionary, and in a sense she did, as people came to her for spiritual guidance. “She became an untiring intercessor in prayer and a mirror of God’s love for the many who sought her counsel,” the pope said Sunday. Schaeffer died in 1925 aged 43.
Maria Anne Cope
She was born in central Germany in 1838 but grew up in the United States. Adopting the name Marianne when she joined the Franciscan order, she worked with lepers in Hawaii, becoming known as “Mother Marianne of Molokai” — the remote island where she died in 1918 aged 80.
Giovanni Battista Piamarta
An Italian priest born in 1841 and orphaned when he was nine, he devoted his life to disadvantaged youth, founding a religious order in 1900. Today he can be considered the patron saint of job-seekers, his postulator Igor Manzillo said.
Maria del Carmen
She launched the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in 1892, devoted to education and present today in 16 countries. Born in 1848 near Barcelona, she also worked to improve training for poor women, defend their social conditions and promote the education of their children.
Men and women, different ages and backgrounds, geography and areas of involvement. Some martyred for their faith while others quietly living a joyful example of prayer and selfless giving. All different yet connected. Sound familiar? Kind of like you and me, people struggling day to day, some living heroically while others trying to make it to the end of another bumpy road. What connects us all is our faith in God and understanding that we're not in charge (God is) yet we can offer our gifts and talents to others as a sign of our gratitude for all that we've been given.
Blessed John Paul II challenged each one of us to be the "saints of the new millennium". Who are those in your own life who could be considered modern day saints? Worth reflecting on...
Canadians and for that matter North Americans took special pride in St. Kateri's canonization today. It was wonderful to have so many First Nations pilgrims in the square, many in native dress, like proud parents watching a daughter on graduation day. As Pope Benedict expressed in his homily, "May her (Kateri's) example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are. Saint Kateri, Protectress of Canada and the first native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America! May God bless the first nations!"
The ceremony brought to 45 the number of saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI. Blessed John Paul II elevated 482 holy men and women to sainthood during his pontificate, providing more than 500 new Catholic models of faith to the forefront over the last 34 years. It's incumbent on us to learn more about these heroes of faith who will help inspire us along the way.
Following the canonization ceremony, there was also an opportunity to join in a small reception at the North American Pontifical College hosted by Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See, Anne Leahy. On hand we witnessed a cross section of Canada - pilgrims from coast to coast, provincial and federal government representatives, church leaders and, most importantly, members of the First Nations. Canadian Aboriginal Leader, Phil Fontaine, spoke of coming to Rome in 2009 to meet with the Holy Father and church leaders to discuss the pain of residential schools and the abuse that hurt so many across the country. Today, he spoke of reconciliation and the need to move forward. He also discussed the joy in being part of a ceremony that brought great pride and honor to the First Nations people.
It was also amazing to see the story grow internationally with literally thousands of stories broadcast, written and posted about St. Kateri and the other new saints. Cardinal Collins and pilgrims from the Toronto delegation had the chance to share their experiences in Rome and bring them back to the media in Canada. You might even say that journalists were helping revive the New Evangelization in telling the stories of the saints. Some great photos help tell the stories as well - you'll find pics on this blog courtesy Emanuel Pires from the Public Relations & Communications Office of the Archdiocese.
(pic below of Ambassador Leahy with the Finkbonner family - son Jake healed of flesh eating disease after his family sought the intervention of Kateri - Jake and his family received communion from the Holy Father today)
All the while back in Canada, many local events were taking place to celebrate St. Kateri's elevation. From the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland to the Shrine of Kateri Tekakwitha in Kahnawake, Quebec, final resting place of St. Kateri; children sharing a play about Kateri's life in King City, Ontario to a pipe ceremony at Kitchitwa Kateri Parish in Thunder Bay, not to mention the countless events south of the border. The stories of the saints help us reflect on our own faith. There's no question, there was plenty of reflection going on today.
For many who, before this weekend, weren't even sure how to spell Tekakwitha, today are falling in love with St. Kateri and six other saints, models of faith, hope and love. I think it's safe to say World Mission Sunday was felt globally this year more than any other in recent memory. We thank these saints for being missionaries both in their witness on earth and through their ongoing legacy highlighted today. May their stories continue to unfold and inspire us for years to come. Who knows? In that crowd of 100,000 or participating in celebrations worldwide may reside the saints of tomorrow. For now, we thank God for our newest Catholic heroes - to all those canonized today, pray for us.