The brief and devoted life of a 17th-century woman is being celebrated this weekend, when she is to be canonized the first Native American saint in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who died at age 24, will be canonized next Sunday by Pope Benedict XVI.
"It is a significant event for many of the Native Americans who are Catholics because they see it as an affirmation of their faith, that this young Mohawk girl finally is being recognized as a saint," said the Rev. Stephen Barnufsky, pastor of San Xavier Mission south of Tucson.
Blessed Kateri, the "Lily of the Mohawks," was born to a Christian Catholic Algonquin mother and traditional Mohawk Chief in 1656 in New York State, according to the Tekakwitha Conference, a nonprofit started in 1939.
Orphaned at age 4 after her parents and brother died of smallpox, she went to live with relatives. The virus left her weak and damaged her vision.
In 1670, St. Peter's Mission was established in Caughnawaga, now Fonda, New York. Tekakwitha met Father James de Lamberville four years later and asked to be baptized.
The remainder of her life was devoted to teaching prayers to children and helping the sick and aged.
"She's the first Native American saint to be canonized and it's exciting because she's one of us," said Art Bailey, who will witness the ceremony in Rome with seven other Tohono O'odham Nation members.
Bailey is part of two local Kateri circles including one on the Tohono O'odham Nation as well as South Tucson's Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church.
Like Bailey, Juana Casillas is also looking forward to the trip and the long-awaited canonization. Casillas, Bailey and six others will spend 11 days in Italy.
Casillas, 69, said the canonization validates that Native Americans can both maintain who they are, as Native Americans, while also practicing their faith.
Navajo flutist Vince Redhouse, who recently moved from Tucson to Washington state, will perform at the ceremony in Rome with three of his college-bound Navajo students. The piece, "Sonata for Four Native Flutes," was composed by local artist Mike Levy.
Redhouse is the son of Rex Redhouse, a longtime Tucsonan who attended the annual Tekakwitha Conference for 40 years and longed to see the Blessed Kateri become a saint. Vince Redhouse said it will be bittersweet to be in Rome without his father.
"The last conference he went to, he invited me to go with him. I had never been to one before. And, unbeknownst to us, it was the last conference he would go to," said Vince Redhouse, 57. His father died in 2004.
The Rev. Seraphim Molina, pastor at Blessed Kateri, said the canonization provides a time for the parish to come together and reflect on how they can be more like her.
"We know that there are many lives that are broken, not only in the church but in our own communities and our own homes, and it raises up to us that challenge to let God arrange our lives," he said.
Kateri exemplifies, especially for the parish youth, how important it is to take on leadership roles and minister to one another, Molina said.
"This is where the Blessed Kateri really becomes a part of our lives," he said.
If you go
What: A daylong celebration of the canonization of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
When: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. next Saturday. Mass will be held at 11 a.m. in front of the cathedral.
Where: Mission San Xavier del Bac, 1950 W. San Xavier Road.
• The celebration begins at 10 a.m. when spiritual runners, bearing a statue of the Blessed Kateri, arrive at the church. The statue will be enthroned.
• At 11 a.m., a Mass will be celebrated on the patio in front of the church.
Lunch will follow the Mass and entertainment during the afternoon will include traditional Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O'odham dances as well as a play on the Blessed Kateri by the youth of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha parish.
• At 4:30 p.m., the day will conclude with Native American drum groups.
What: A celebration of the canonization of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha at Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church.
When: 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. Oct. 21.
Where: Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church, 507 W. 29th St.
Details: Celebrations begin at 6 a.m. with an Alba - Yaqui morning prayers - followed by a menudo breakfast.
After breakfast, parish youth will reenact the life of the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. A celebratory Mass will be held at 11 a.m.
Contact reporter Patty Machelor at email@example.com or 806-7754.