VATICAN CITY - Some 80,000 pilgrims in flowered lei, feathered headdresses and other traditional garb flooded St. Peter's Square Sunday as Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven saints, including Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint born in the U.S.
Another American, Mother Marianne Cope, a 19th century Franciscan nun who cared for leprosy patients in Hawaii, also became a saint.
St. Kateri, known as the "Lily of the Mohawks," was born in 1656 to a pagan Iroquois father and an Algonquin Christian mother. Her parents died when she was 4 during a smallpox epidemic that left her scarred and with impaired eyesight. She went to live with an uncle, a Mohawk, and was baptized by Jesuit missionaries. She was ostracized and persecuted by other natives for her faith, and she died in what is now Canada when she was 24.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who con-celebrated the canonization Mass, told Catholic News Service that St. Kateri "grew up in a place where there was great hostility toward Christianity" but resisted efforts to turn her away from her faith.
"So in some ways she would be a model of fidelity in the face of persecution on religious-freedom grounds," Chaput told the news service.
Chaput, a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Native American Affairs for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He said Oct. 16 at a conference meeting in Washington that St. Kateri's life was "a witness not only to the cost of discipleship – she bore a great deal of suffering for her faith among her own people – but also to its fruitfulness."
A third new saint, Pedro Calungsod, a 17th century Filipino teenage martyr, drew the biggest crowd to the Vatican, with Rome's sizeable Filipino community turning out to welcome the country's second saint.
In his homily, Benedict praised each of the seven saints as heroic and courageous examples for the entire church, calling St. Kateri an inspiration to indigenous faithful across North America.
"May the witness of these new saints . . . speak today to the whole church, and may their intercession strengthen and sustain her in her mission to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world," he said.
The celebrations began at dawn, with Native American in beaded and feathered headdresses and leather-fringed tunics singing songs to St. Kateri to the beat of drums as the sun rose over St. Peter's Square.
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.
The two American saints actually hail from roughly the same place - what is today upstate New York - although they lived two centuries apart.
Speaking in English and French, in honor of St. Kateri's Canadian ties, Benedict noted how unusual it was in Saint Kateri's indigenous 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!"