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St. Kateri and the 'convergence' of cultures

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 22, 2012

In an interview with Vatican Radio, Anne Leahy, the Canadian ambassador to the Holy See, had some puzzling things to say about the canonization of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

First the Canadian envoy remarked that St. Kateri “is really put up as a model for the universal Church, but as a model, in fact, by her life, by her beliefs, by her steadfastness—these are qualities for all individuals, and not only those associated with her immediate background or religion.”

What does that convoluted statement mean? Leahy singles out two remarkable qualities that St. Kateri displayed: her beliefs and her steadfastness. So far, so good. But then she suggests that anyone, regardless of religious background, might have had the same qualities. It’s arguable that someone without St. Kateri’s faith might have shown the same degree of steadfastness—although I wouldn’t bet on it. But it’s simply not possible that someone of another faith could share St. Kateri’s beliefs.

Yet I fear that Leahy is moving in precisely that wrong direction. Notice this comment:

Her life embodies, in many ways, the convergence of the values that her people had, in terms of their spirituality, a certain convergence with the Catholic Faith that the Jesuits brought.

Here the Canadian ambassador might be interpreted as hinting at a “convergence” of beliefs, in which St. Kateri found herself somewhere midway between Catholic orthodoxy and Native American spirituality. There is nothing in the newly canonized saint’s life to suggest that she lived in such a spiritual halfway-house; her embrace of Catholicism was complete.

To be sure, when St. Kateri became Catholic, she did not cease to be Mohawk. She did not abandon her people and their heritage; on the contrary, she is now their patron. She can be seen today as a model for Native Americans, showing how all that is best in that culture is fulfilled in Christianity. You might say that there is a “convergence” insofar as a stream of Native American spirituality flowed into the river of Catholic faith—just as thousands of other cultural influences have joined the torrent. Let’s hope that is what Anne Leahy had in mind.

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  • Posted by: R. Spanier (Catholic Canadian) - Oct. 23, 2012 2:11 AM ET USA

    The public statement issued by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, re. the canonization had this to say: "Saint Kateri... was bestowed the highest honour of the Catholic Church in recognition of her remarkable virtue and determination, and her unwavering devotion to God. ... Throughout her short life, Saint Kateri never abandoned her faith. She taught prayers to children, cared for the sick and the elderly, and often attended mass both at sunrise and sunset."

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