For the past 10 years, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish has been celebrating her life with Mass and a traditional lunch of soup and bannock. Known as the “Lily of the Mohawks,” Kateri Tekakwitha is the first North American indigenous saint. She was born in 1656 in upstate New York to a Catholic Algonquin mother and a Mohawk chief. After her baptism, she lived a faith-filled life at the Jesuit mission of Kahnawake in Quebec until her death from tuberculosis in 1680 at the age of only 24.
Father Nilo Macapinlac presented a reflection at the 10th annual St. Kateri Gathering July 15 in Maskwacis. Father Nilo is the author of “St. Kateri Tekakwitha: The First North American Aboriginal Saint’. He arranged for a papal blessing for Our Lady of Seven Sorrows parish. That certificate was presented to the parish.
Father Nilo is a former pastor of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows parish in Maskwacis. He is now the pastor at St. Stephen’s parish in Olds. The current pastor is Father Garry LaBoucane.
Approximately 10 years ago today, I humbly recalled that I arrived here in 2013, the land called the Bear Hills known as Maskwacis formerly Hobbema. I was able to meet the families of Piche, Wildcats, Littlechild, Buffalo, Stoning, Soosay, Ermineskin, Yellowbird, Bear, Saddleback, Ward, Omeoso, Moonias, Bull, Bruno and many more … this is to name a few.
In loving memory of Mary Soto, this feast was materialized and made possible as well with collaboration of everyone here and of Karen Wildcat and the parishioners and the Sisters of Merciful Jesus. This month of July 2023 reminds us of the first anniversary of the Penitential Pilgrimage of Pope Francis in this humble land, Maskwacis, the largest residential school in Alberta if not of entire Canada.
Before the visit of Pope Francis, I was able to request an Apostolic Blessing from him when I was pastor of our one and only Catholic Church left in our four reserve of First Nations, Our Lady of Seven Sorrows Parish. I had also the privilege to bless the graves here in Maskwacis prior to the visit of Pope Francis last year on July 26, 2022. I had been assisted by our prominent and humble elder, Alec Piche, a very devoted and dedicated parishioner and long standing parish council officer.
We had fond memories despite of so many challenges. One day prior to Christmas, my phone rang and someone asked me, “Hey, Father Nilo, what time is our midnight Mass? I said ‘Midnight meaning 12 at night’ and he laughed.” Our Church that night was full packed.
On Easter Vigil one time, I never forget that the mother of all vigils became KOKOM and MOZOM because there was 32 adult baptisms and Confirmations. What a beautiful response and fervent faith of our people. What a sacred journey! Hai Hai!
We always begin with a humble prayer: “Manito Kitima kinawinan, Jezus, kitima kinawinan” knowing that our God, our Notawinan is rich in mercy! He has chosen our very own Kateri Tekakwitha as blessed and saint in our midst. You and I are called daily to walk on the path to universal call to holiness: “Be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy.” (Matthew 5:48).
St. Augustine once said: “Every sinner is a potential saint.” You are saint in the making, you who remain faithful and obey the wisdom of our ancestors. St. Kateri who is now in heaven, is the great model for us to follow and imitate her heroic virtues and strong faith in God. She is truly the model saint of our times. The theme for this year, 10th Annual gathering for the Feast of St. Kateri is: “St. Kateri Tekakwitha, A Model Saint of Our Times.
In reading the signs of our times, with the eye of faith, St. Kateri responded the call of God with steadfast love and fervent faith.
- We needed that faith, an obedient faith to God’s calling. She fosters the beauty of the culture of vocations. Vocation is a call from God. God has called Kateri in her young age and she was open, docile and generous in responding to this call. She was docile to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Despite of sickness, trials, misfortunes and sufferings, she was attuned to the voice of God. She lost her parents and baby brother at the age of four due to small pox epidemic at that time.As orphan, she accepted God’s will and being raised and adopted by her uncle who succeeded her late father who was a chief. She refused to marry a Mohawk. She was faithful to God and discerned well her vocation and remained a single. To be a single person is also a vocation, God’s noble calling too. How did she respond to the call of God if she is not listening to God’s voice in prayer?
- Secondly, we need a strong prayer life. We need silent prayer, meditation and contemplation. We need desperately God’s grace to cultivate our interior life or our spiritual life. We are in a busy and noisy world. We need a quiet place, a room prepared by God in the core of our being. “But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut the door and pray to your Father…” (Matthew 6:6). God’s speaks in silence. “Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted over all the earth. (Psalm 46:10).Kateri during her earthly life, she spent hours in the Church praying before the Lord’s presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament. How blessed are we? We have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament here in our parish till today. Let us come and adore the Lord who awaits patiently for us whom St. Kateri totally giving herself in prayer but above all, she gave her whole life to God. Even Jesus appealed to his apostles at night prior to his arrest, He said: “Could you not keep watch with Me and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation? (Matthew 26:40).
When we are lonely and tempted, when we are depressed and becoming hopeless, we need someone to guide, inspire and encouraged or counsel us. Why not opening and pouring out your heart to God who truly awaits for us in the Most Holy Sacrament? Prayer is the key to holiness, a secret weapon of St. Kateri. It was described that the porter sometimes in human weakness, he became impatient because he needed to close door of the Church but Kateri was not finished praying and pouring out her heart to Jesus. How about you? When was your last time you prayed sincerely before Jesus truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament? Our Church here in Maskwacis is the remnant and only Catholic Church left throughout Maskwacis and how blessed are you!
Like St. Kateri don’t waste your time, spend it with Jesus, our hour of prayer becomes eternity of grace with God who alone can satiate our spiritual hunger and can surely quench our spiritual thirst. “O Sacrament Most Holy O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!” Alleluiah! Kateri Tekakwitha, a lady of faith, model of prayer.
Despite of her sickness and sufferings, she persevered because of her heroic and courageous faith in God. At age 19, despite of rough challenges, Kateri persevered in knowing God through religious instruction and inspiration of the three Blackrobes (Jesuit missionaries or the Society of Jesus missionaries).
- Thirdly, we need the ongoing faith formation with regards to our Catholic faith. St. Kateri who was formed in the faith became a teacher of faith in a very unique – practical way, a model for us all. How we can perpetuate our faith when it is not well formed and nourished? How can we hand on this faith if we have no knowledge of God and our Catholic faith? We cannot give what we do not have.However our model, St Kateri, her solid faith, courage and determination made her persevere and she finally received the Sacrament of Baptism on Easter Sunday. Her conversion could led to severe persecution since Sunday is the Lord’s day, a day of no work but rest and a holy day of worship, keeping the Sabbath day holy. Therefore, she could be treated as one of the slaves for those who do not work on Sunday. Therefore, no work no food she could be famished and endure starvation. But despite of this, she grew in holiness and vibrant in her Christian faith.She is truly our model in purity of her faith in God. St. Kateri said: ” I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus. He must be my only love. The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me. All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing. With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor. If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross. He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.” (Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Bulletin, July 10, 2016)
- Fourthly, she is the shining star of evangelization. She shared the ‘Pearl of Great Price, Jesus’ into the world. She is not the wall that divides but a bridge. A stronghold that is a bridge to our unique cultural spirituality to a Christian faith that interwoven beautifully and even it gives more meaning to our life of faith. It unites us to One Father of us All, Notawinanan.
She is a model of perseverance and evangelization, more so today still interceding and praying for us and for the world to be redeemed. It was said that, she made crosses out of love for Jesus. She fully understood suffering out of love for God as Jesus did on the Cross. She died even with fervent faith and passion for the love of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her last parting words simply: “ Jesus, I love you.” This capsulate the purity of her intention, faith and love for God. No wonder she has the title: “Lily of the Mohawks.”
Purity in faith, purity in virtue, purity in lifestyle. What a model for us that she anchored her faith in God and placed Jesus at the centre of her life. Faith is supernatural virtue and it is a gift from God. Let us ask the intercession of St. Kateri to grant us this fervent faith in God. For the letter to the Hebrews reminding us: “For without faith it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:16). We are aware that some people they have no faith in God, we need the patience of St. Kateri in how to deal with those around us who have no knowledge of who God is. Hosea the prophet of Old once said: God’s people perish because of the lack of knowledge of who God is. (Hosea 4:6).
Let us ask the intercession of St. Kateri to win souls who reject and deny God’s existence, the atheists, agnostics and those who have no fault of their own, they lack of the knowledge of God. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”, St. Paul said. (Romans 10:17).
Let us be grateful for our Kokom and Muzom who led us to the knowledge of God and grateful for our 10th Anniversary of celebrating the feast of St. Kateri in this humble and sacred ground of Maskwacis. Hai hai to Mary Soto, our chiefs and council for their undying support, our pastors who guided us, our organizers and all our elders, parish council, parishioners and everyone who persevered that we were able to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. Truly, your fervent faith and the life of our model and Saint Kateri continues to inspire us here in Maskwacis and beyond.
Finally, St. Kateri is model of holy perseverance amidst adversities and persecution. Let us ask her prayers and miraculous intercession. There are healings and answered prayer because of her.
St. Kateri, patron saint of traditional ecology, care of creation, of those in exile and with relationship problems, patron and model not only of the First Nations but of all nations, intercede and pray for us. Amen.