'Heroic courage' of seven new saints praised

Before a crowd of more than 80,000 pilgrims, Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints for the Church on Oct. 21, including two connected closely to North America, St. Mother Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha. The canonization Mass was held in a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square and was concelebrated by eight cardinals, including Americans Edwin O’Brien, the grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, and Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. The ceremony coincided with World Mission Sunday. 

The seven saints represent a highly diverse group. There were two martyrs, two founders, a pioneer in hospital work and the care for the lepers, and two laywomen who offered up infirmities for the love of Christ. 

The new saints, aside from Kateri and Marianne, were Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit missionary who was martyred in 1896 by rebels in Madagascar; Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino catechist who was martyred in the Mariana Islands in 1672; Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Congregation of the Humble Sister Servants of the Lord for women, as well as a publishing house; Carmen Sallés y Barangueras, a Spanish nun who founded in 1892 the Congregation of the Conceptionist Missionary Sisters of Teaching to educate children; and Anna Schäffer, a German laywoman who endured immense suffering in her life from burns on her legs that never healed and offered them up as a victim soul. 

U.S. focus

Much of the attention in the media both in Rome and in the United States, however, was devoted to Kateri and Mother Marianne. On Oct. 19, for example, Miguel Diaz, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, hosted a reception for the American pilgrims at the Vatican Museums that had as the highlight a hula show honoring the life and labors of Mother Marianne in Hawaiian song and dance. 

Both Kateri and Marianne have New York connections, despite being separated by nearly two centuries. A Mohawk maiden, Kateri was born near Auriesville, N.Y., and converted to the Church in 1676. She died at the age of 24. Her last discernible words were, “Jesus, I love you.” She is the first Native American saint and is honored as the Lily of the Mohawks. 

A member of the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, Mother Marianne was born in Germany, but grew up in Utica, N.Y. She was responsible for opening hospitals and caring for lepers on the islands of Hawaii before her death in 1918. Among the patients in her care was St. Damien de Veuster, whom she succeeded as head of the leper settlement on Molokai. 

Pilgrims’ celebrations

For the large number of Hawaiians and Native Americans honoring Marianne and Kateri Tekakwitha, respectively, the Mass was the culmination of decades of work and prayer. Many Native Americans arrived in traditional headdresses and tunics, making them the most distinctive of the contingents, and some arrived before dawn to sing songs in praise of Kateri in their traditional languages. Mohawk was spoken at moments during the Mass. 

St. Anna Schäffer, a German laywoman, was among seven new saints canonized Oct. 21 at the Vatican. CNS photo

Kateri has long served as a model for Native American Catholics and a source of pride for all Native Americans. In her role now as saint, she is especially significant and will serve even further as a powerful bridge between the Church and the country’s many Native American communities. 

The pope used his homily to give sketches of each saint’s life, and he focused on two key themes for Kateri and Marianne. 

“At a time when little could be done for those suffering from this terrible disease, Marianne Cope showed the highest love, courage and enthusiasm,” he said.  “She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved St. Francis.” 

Regarding Kateri, he declared: “Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. She lived a life radiant with faith and purity. Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life in spite of the absence of external help and by the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture. In her, faith and culture enrich each other!” 

Looking at the saints as a group, the pope stressed their diversity, but also their universality. He said in his homily, “These new saints, different in origin, language, nationality and social condition, are united among themselves and with the whole People of God in the mystery of salvation of Christ the Redeemer.” 

Blueprint for holiness

The canonization Mass had an added aspect to it in that while an annual ceremony for the pope, this year it fell in the middle of a number of significant events in Rome. Bishops from around the world have gathered at the Vatican to take part in the world Synod of Bishops, focusing on the New Evangelization, and the pope also marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11. On that same day he officially opened the Year of Faith. 

The new saints can thus be seen through the current lens of the year dedicated to nurturing faith in all of its dimensions. Taking as his starting point a line from the day’s Gospel reading, “The Son of Man came to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45), the pope looked at the seven new saints and proclaimed that the Gospel words were a blueprint for their lives. He added: “With heroic courage they spent their lives in total consecration to the Lord and in the generous service of their brethren.  They are sons and daughters of the Church who chose a life of service following the Lord. … The tenacious profession of faith of these seven generous disciples of Christ, their configuration to the Son of Man shines out brightly today in the whole Church.” 

Matthew Bunson is editor of Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Almanac and The Catholic Answer magazine, and the co-author of “Saint Kateri: Lily of the Mohawks” (OSV, 2012).