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Bremerton Catholics anticipate new saint

Bremerton Catholics have spent decades praying for the canonization of the first Native American into sainthood.

Kateri Tekakwitha, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and currently awaits canonization by Pope Benedict XVI.

“We were hoping in 1986 that the Holy Father would declare Kateri a saint,” said Rev. Jack Buckalew of Holy Trinity parish in East Bremerton. “I was disappointed when it didn’t happen.”

Tekakwitha, a Mohawk-Algonquin woman living in what became New York state, died in the 17th century at the age of 24. She was persecuted for almost her whole life by her tribe for converting to Catholicism but always remained faithful.

The future saint’s example unites scattered Native American Catholic populations in the region even to this day, according to Linda Delorme, an Ojibwe-Cree woman, who attends Our Lady Star of the Sea parish in Bremerton.

For example, “Kateri Circles” are meetings that encourage Native American spirituality by mixing traditional Catholic liturgy with indigenous cultural customs, reconciling some of the most common challenges.

Native American Catholics identify themselves in Kateri’s spiritual plight.

“Kateri has a very special place with the Native Americans in my parish. There’s a feeling, she’s one of us,” said Buckalew.

“Native people have had a tough journey with Christianity,” Delorme said. “Many still do today.”

Kateri’s journey to sainthood began more than three centuries.  after her death when the Vatican evaluated her life and virtue. Pope Pius XII named her “venerable” in 1943. The title remained until 1980, when the Vatican confirmed her first miracle and proclaimed her “blessed.”

The final step in sainthood is confirmation of a second miracle which didn’t happen until 2006 when 11-year-old Jake Finkbonner, suffering from a fatal flesh-eating bacteria at Seattle Children’s Hospital, suddenly reversed his condition and made a full recovery.

Finkbonner is a Native American boy from the Lummi tribe.

The Finkbonner family prayed for Kateri to intercede for their son when all medical intervention failed. The Vatican took five years to confirm the miracle. Pope Benedict XVI signed a decree recognizing Kateri’s miracle and deemed her worthy of sainthood on December 19.

Kateri’s miracle has given Natives and non-Native Catholics alike in Bremerton renewed hope. People have become so hopeless that they don’t want to believe in miracles anymore, said Meg Collier, parish secretary at Our Lady Star of the Sea.

“But this is a reminder that God works through all people, all ethnicities, to show his power. It’s a beautiful and uniting force for everyone in our community,” Collier said.

No date has been released for Kateri’s canonization. Ceremonies generally take place in Rome, but this time the United States is also a possibility since Kateri is an American saint, according to Rev. Derek Lappe of Our Lady Star of the Sea.

Bremerton parish members will continue to pray with Kateri who has been declared the patron saint of loss of parents, exiles and those ridiculed for piety.

According to Collier, many Catholics choose to pray with saints that they closely identify to in hopes that they will “have a heart for those same issues” and advocate for them in heaven.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if many of our members chose Kateri,” said Collier.

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