BARAGA - Several local Catholics will be making the trip of a lifetime to Rome, Italy, in October to attend the church's canonization of the first Native American saint, and they're looking to the community as they fundraise for the trip.
Kateri Tekakwitha will be canonized Oct. 21, and 11 people with the Baraga Kateri Prayer Circle will be among about 50 people from the Upper Peninsula making the pilgrimage.
"It is very exciting for us to go to Rome because most of us have never dreamed of having the opportunity to attend a canonization ceremony or to receive the Eucharist at the Vatican," said Deacon John Cadeau, leader of the Kateri Prayer Circle and the pilgrimage to Rome. "It is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, a tremendous joy."
The prayer circle will be leading efforts to collect cans and bottles to raise funds for the trip. They can be dropped off at the basements of all Baraga County Catholic churches: Sacred Heart in L'Anse, St. Ann's in Baraga and Holy Name of Jesus in Assinins. To schedule a can and bottle pick-up pick-up elsewhere, call 906-353-6469, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ktekakwitha.com.
The prayer circle will also be holding a raffle with various prizes, including a handmade quilt by Elder Lillian Verbanac. Tickets will be sold at community events, or people can call 906-201-2016 or email email@example.com.
The group is also raising funds for a Kateri Prayer Garden to be part of the Assinins Baraga Center, a historical genealogy center at the Holy Names of Jesus Church. For more information on the center, visit frbaraga.com.
The Catholic Diocese of Marquette and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community have also provided support for the pilgrimage, and the canonization is particularly important to Native Americans.
"The canonization in Rome is a big ceremony for Native Americans and women because it elevates Kateri to the highest position any member of the church can be given - most popes are not elevated to sainthood," Cadeau said. "It is an honor to any Native community regardless of their faith."
Tekakwitha is the patron saint of the environment and ecology. She was born of a Catholic Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, and she barely survived the smallpox that killed her family when she was young. After being adopted by a chief of her tribe, she spent her 24 years caring for her new family, the sick and the elderly. She took a public vow of virginity and lived a life devoted to God before she died in 1680.
"She had a unique holiness. Through her struggles and persecution she still spent all of her days in her prayer and caring for others," Cadeau said. "Women from many generations have her as their faith hero, like a sport's hero, who gives them an example of how they want to be, how they are trying to live their life."
She was declared venerable by Pope Pius XII Jan. 3, 1943, declared blessed by Pope John Paul II June 22, 1980, and she will be declared a saint Oct. 21.
For more information on Tekakwitha, the Baraga prayer circle and the trip to Rome, visit ktekakwitha.com.