VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI added seven more saints onto the roster of Catholic role models on Sunday, saying their example would strengthen the church it tries to rekindle the faith in places where it’s lagging. Two of them were Americans: Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint from the U.S. and Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii.
Native Americans in beaded and feathered headdresses and leather-fringed tunics sang songs to Kateri as the sun rose over St. Peter’s Square ahead of the Mass. Also taking part was Sharon Smith, whose cure from complications from pancreatitis was deemed a “miracle” by the Vatican, paving the way for Mother Marianne to be canonized.
In his homily, Benedict praised each of the seven new saints as examples for the entire church, calling Cope a “shining” example for Catholics and Kateri an inspiration to indigenous faithful across North America.
“With heroic courage they spent their lives in total consecration to the Lord and in the generous service of their brethren,” he said.
Pilgrims from around the world attended the Mass, which started with the head of the Vatican’s saint-making office reading aloud each of the names of the seven new saints in Latin, drawing cheers from the crowd.
“It’s so nice to see God showing all the flavors of the world,” marveled Gene Caldwell, a Native American member of the Menominee reservation in Neopit, Wisconsin who attended with his wife, Linda. “The Native Americans are enthralled” to have Kateri canonized, he said.
Cheers rose up again when Benedict, speaking in Latin, declared each of the seven saints and worthy of veneration by the entire church.
“It’s amazing!” said Sheila Austin, a nurse who traveled with pilgrims from Syracuse, New York, for Mother Marianne’s canonization. “There have been people working for many years so that today would come about.”
The canonization coincided with a Vatican meeting of the world’s bishops on trying to revive Christianity in places where it’s fallen by the wayside. Several of the new saints were missionaries, making clear the pope hopes their example will be relevant today as the Catholic Church tries to hold onto its faithful in the face of competition from evangelical churches in Africa and Latin America, increasing secularization in the West and disenchantment with the church over the clerical sex abuse scandal in Europe and beyond.
One of the new saints was Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenager who helped Jesuit priests convert natives in Guam in the 17th century but was killed by spear-wielding villagers opposed to the missionaries’ efforts to baptize their children.
Rome’s sizeable Filipino expat community came out in droves for the Mass, including Marianna Dieza, a 39-year-old housekeeper who said it was a day of pride for all Filipinos. “We are especially proud because he is so young,” she said.
The two American saints actually hail from roughly the same place – what is today upstate New York – although they lived two centuries apart.
Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother. Her parents and only brother died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her badly scarred and with impaired eyesight. She went to live with her uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized Catholic by Jesuit missionaries. But she was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in what is now Canada when she was 24.
Speaking in English and French, in honor of Kateri’s Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Kateri’s culture for her to choose to devote herself to her Catholic faith.
“May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are,” Benedict said. “Saint Kateri, protectress of Canada and the first Native American saint, we entrust you to the renewal of the faith in the first nations and in all of North America!”
Cope is revered among many Catholics in Hawaii, where she arrived from New York in 1883 to care for leprosy patients on Kalaupapa, an isolated peninsula on Molokai Island where Hawaii governments forcibly exiled them for decades. At the time, there was widespread fear of the disfiguring disease, which can cause skin lesions, mangled fingers and toes and lead to blindness.
Cope, however, led a band of Franciscan nuns to the peninsula to care for the patients, just as Saint Damien, a Belgian priest, did in 1873. He died of the disease 16 years later and was canonized in 2009.
“At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm,” Benedict said in his homily. “She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved St. Francis.”
Two-hundred fifty pilgrims from Hawaii traveled to Rome for Mother Marianne’s canonization, including nine Kalaupapa patients.
Another pilgrim was Smith, of Syracuse, New York, whose 2005 cure from complications from pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, was declared medically inexplicable by the Vatican – the “miracle” needed for Mother Marianne to be named a saint. In an interview last week, Smith recounted how she had fainted one day in her home, an allergic reaction to medication she was taking for a kidney transplant, and awoke in the hospital to find that doctors weren’t giving her much time to live.
Her disease was eating away at her insides, causing her stomach to detach from her intestines. Doctors said they couldn’t repair it. At a certain point, a nun pinned a bag of ashes and dirt from Mother Marianne’s grave on her and prayed.
“I had never heard of her, but we continued to pray,” Smith said. “And I just, I started getting better.”
“I believe in miracles, but I don’t know whether it was all the prayers, or the pinning of the relic, but I know that something worked and I’m here for some reason,” Smith said.
The Vatican’s complicated saint-making procedure requires that the Vatican certify a “miracle” was performed through the intercession of the candidate – a medically inexplicable cure that can be directly linked to the prayers offered by the faithful. One miracle is needed for beatification, a second for canonization.
The other new saints are: Jacques Berthieu, a 19th century French Jesuit who was killed by rebels in Madagascar, where he had worked as a missionary; Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian who founded a religious order in 1900 and established a Catholic printing and publishing house in his native Brescia; Carmen Salles Y Barangueras, a Spanish nun who founded a religious order to educate children in 1892; and Anna Schaeffer, a 19th century German lay woman who became a model for the sick and suffering after she fell into a boiler and badly burned her legs. The wounds never healed, causing her constant pain.