On Sunday, October 21st, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, will canonize seven new saints, three of whom were American. During this Year of Faith, we can be inspired by the example of the saints, extraordinary witnesses to the faith.
Each of the three new American saints freely chose to embrace the radical demands of Christian discipleship, bringing the Gospel of God’s love to the poor and the outcast.
Saint Pedro Calungsod
Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino boy educated by Jesuits, at age 14 had already shown such zeal and ability as a catechist that missionaries invited him to go with them to the Mariana Islands. Pedro and Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores went to Guam, where they converted many Chamorros to Catholicism, including the wife of a village chief, Mata’pang. The pagan chief did not hide his hostility toward them and toward those who accepted the faith. At the wife’s request, the missionaries went to baptize her newborn daughter. In his fury, Mata’pang goaded a villager into killing both missionaries. Saint Pedro Calungsod was only 17 or 18 at the time of his martyrdom.
This saint and martyr is a great example for our catechists and our young people, an example of missionary fervor and courage. He reminds us that our youth also have an important role in the new evangelization.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha
Kateri Tekakwitha was four when smallpox swept through the Mohawk village of Ossernenon (now Auriesville, New York), killing her parents and baby brother. The disease left her severely pockmarked, half-blind and lame. When she was 11, missionaries were able to return to her village where three of their predecessors had been martyred. They instructed Kateri in the faith. Her uncle, in whose home she lived, strongly opposed her conversion and tried to force her into marriage. She desired instead to remain a virgin. Her uncle confined her to the village, and she was denied food for refusing to work on Sundays. A young Mohawk even threatened to kill her if she did not renounce her faith.
Kateri eventually escaped to the Mission of Saint Francis Xavier in Kahnawake, Quebec. There she was baptized and made a vow of chastity. For the remainder of her life, she devoted herself to prayer and acts of charity.
I attended Kateri Tekakwitha’s beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1980 while I was a student in Rome. It was a beautiful event. I remember the many Native Americans who came for the beatification. On the day after the beatification Mass, I served as master of ceremonies at the Mass of Thanksgiving for Kateri’s beatification celebrated by Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia in the chapel of the North American College.
A statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha has been ordered for the chapel of the new Saint Joseph High School in South Bend. This humble young virgin, who died at the age of 24, is an example for all of our young people, an example of faith, chastity, and courage.
Saint Marianne Cope
Mother Marianne Cope, a Sister of Saint Francis, worked as a teacher and school principal in Syracuse, New York and later helped found and run Catholic hospitals in New York. In 1883, while serving as Superior General of her congregation, she accepted a plea from the King of Hawaii to care for females afflicted with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). She and six sisters established one hospital, ran a second, cared for these women, and opened a home for their children on Oahu.
When the government forced these poor “outcasts” into exile on Molokai, Mother Marianne and her sisters accompanied them. She cared for the dying Father Damien (now Saint Damien) and founded a home for women and girls with Hansen’s disease at the Molokai settlement. There she brought joy, hope, beauty and a sense of dignity into their lives — sewing dresses for them in the latest fashions, teaching them the faith, as well as skills in embroidery and other arts. Pope Benedict has called her a “striking example of sanctity and heroic charity.”
Saint Marianne Cope is also a wonderful example for us, particularly for religious sisters and those who serve in health care.
Our New Saints
In these opening weeks of the Year of Faith, these new saints, extraordinary witnesses of faith, inspire us to live our faith through love of God and neighbor. They each had a deep personal relationship with God, a living faith. They teach us that the witness of holiness is at the heart of the New Evangelization.
It is important that during this Year of Faith we focus not only on knowing the content of our Catholic faith, but also on living it with conviction. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: In order that the message of salvation can show the power of its truth and radiance before men, it must be authenticated by the witness of the life of Christians. The witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw people to the faith and to God (CCC 2044).
May Saints Peter Calungsod, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Marianne Cope intercede for us that we may be faithful witnesses of the Lord Jesus!
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