Papal Ambassador’s Visit Strengthens Diocese’s Native American Missions

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Tribal members greet people as they arrive at the mass celebrating Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.
(Brett Meister | The Catholic Sun)

By Jeff Grant, The Catholic Sun

SCOTTSDALE — A representative of the papal ambassador to the United States has made two visits to Native American missions in the Diocese of Phoenix.

Msgr. Luca Caveada, Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in the United States of America, celebrated Mass at St. John the Baptist Church in Laveen on Saturday July 30 and at St. Francis of Assisi Mission in Scottsdale on Sunday 31 July.

Msgr. Caveada was in the greater Phoenix area for the installation of Bishop John P. Dolan as the fifth bishop of the diocese on Tuesday, August 2. As representative of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Msgr. Caveada read the official papal document declaring Dolan the Ordinary of the diocese.

The masses in Laveen and Scottsdale were part of a special celebration of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, whose feast day is July 14.

The relics of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha are displayed for veneration during a mass in her honor at St. Francis Mission.
(Brett Meister | The Catholic Sun)

The first Native American to be named a Catholic saint, Kateri’s feast is recognized annually by the diocese. But Msgr. Caveada told the 50 or so St. Francis devotees that his visit was not limited to honoring the venerable “Lily of the Mohawks.”

“I am here also because I am curious to understand how the Lord grows and nurtures his Church through your culture,” he said during his homily.

“It is a blessing to see how the Church lives, and how alive and fruitful the Church is. Through the Church we recognize the risen Lord. Thank you for giving me this chance to be with you,” he said.

The faithful of the Native American community were gratified.

“It says a lot for Rome to be here with us today,” said Joe Enos.

“It’s great,” said Classene Lewis, a member of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, about 25 miles northeast of Phoenix. Lewis said she travels regularly to worship at St. Francis.

Msgr. Caveada’s stay in the Phoenix area began a day after Pope Francis concluded a 5-day visit to Canada, which he described as “a penitential journey” to meet, listen and apologize to members. First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in Canada. , especially those who experienced abuse or attempted forced assimilation of Indigenous people in church-run residential schools.

The visit to Arizona of Msgr. Caveada represented “a sincere effort by the Vatican to reach out and establish a connection [with the Native peoples]said Dcn. James Trant, parish life coordinator for the Native American Ministry for the Diocese of Phoenix, which is part of the Office of Ethnic Ministries.

“We are just thrilled. I was really impressed that he wanted to do almost what Pope Francis is doing in Canada. As staff, they wanted to reach out to Native American and other minority communities. The reason [Msgr. Caveada] came a few days in advance [of the Bishop’s installation] was to spend some serious time on these missions,” Dcn said. Trant.

Msgr. Caveada also traveled to St. Anthony’s Mission in Sacaton and met with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, who serve St. Peter’s Indian Mission Catholic School in Bapchule.

Prof. Antony Tinker, FHS, and Msgr. Luca Caveada greets a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity after Mass. (Brett Meister | The Catholic Sun)

The Franciscan Friars of the Holy Spirit, based at St. John the Baptist Parish, serves Native American communities in the Diocese of Phoenix, including the Gila River, Salt River, and Ak-Chin reservations, and the San Lucy District of Tohono O’odham Nation. Prof. Antony Tinker, the Brethren community servant, said the social challenges faced by Native Americans are similar to those faced by society at large.

“Our goal is to make saints, to bring people to Jesus, to move [them] in a deeper love for the Church, the Eucharist and the sacraments. We want to bring people together, show love for each other: Love God above all else; love your neighbor as yourself. Let the greater commandment flow. Bring people to healing from trauma, from grace to the sacraments and be filled with the Holy Spirit,” he said.

There are probably few better examples than the woman celebrated on July 30 and 31.

Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1980 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, Saint Kateri Tekakwitha lived a life of holiness and virtue, despite obstacles and opposition within her tribe. Born in 1656, she spent much of her short life in the Adirondack Mountains region of upstate New York. Suffering from smallpox at the age of 4, she lost both parents and her only brother to the disease, which also left her weakened, scarred and partially blind. She was adopted by her aunts and an uncle, a tribal chief. Her family even planned Kateri’s wedding. But the violence and debauchery of her Mohawk village led Kateri to flee to a town near Montreal, Canada, where she grew up in holiness and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Eventually, she took a vow of chastity, the crowning achievement of a life known for her pious spirit, her prayer, and even her self-inflicted penitential wounds.

The “Lily of the Mohawks” died at the age of 24, and moments later witnesses reported seeing the smallpox scars completely disappear and her face take on a radiant glow of beauty.

While Msgr. Caveada did not discuss the life of Saint Kateri in his July 31 homily, he talked about living consecrated to God, posing several questions to the congregation.

“Are we consistent in our spiritual life? What is our treasure? Do we just want to possess, seize wealth, or do we want to follow the Lord? Do I want to recognize the primacy of the Lord? Do we ask for nothing more than our daily bread?

Later, the faithful cited the example of Saint Kateri.

A statue and artwork of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha laid out for veneration during a mass in her honor. (Brett Meister | The Catholic Sun)

“She is a model of charity, of hope, certainly a model of faith,” Classene Lewis said. “I think it’s relative today because [in] so many of our tribes, I find there is a revitalization of indigenous beliefs and ceremonies. A lot of young people are going back to their roots,” she said.

Dcn. Trant noted Kateri’s sacrifices.

“It was a big thing then – as it would be now – for someone to break with their tribe, their clan and all their family ties. I continue to marvel at the connection that so many Aboriginal people have with her. She really brings Christ to the people. Her life was not self-centered. It was focused on the Eucharist, the Rosary, our Blessed Mother,” he said.

“Having a saint and a mission from the same culture helps lay people make that connection with the Catholic faith. It is very ideal for accepting other cultures and other people, just as we have today through foods, rituals and prayers.

Lewis hopes the Church will continue to promote Indigenous religious communities and events.
“For so long we have been a forgotten people,” she said.

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