Pope Benedict’s canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha yesterday gave the Church a new patroness for those who have suffered physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in childhood— particularly those whose abuse was perpetrated by family members or family friends.
Born in 1656 to a Mohawk father and a Christian Algonquin mother in present-day New York, St. Kateri lost her parents to smallpox when she was four. The disease also struck Kateri herself, leaving her with disfiguring scars and poor vision.
Kateri was raised by her aunt and uncle, who expected to set her up in an arranged marriage. But by the time she reached her late teens, she had decided to dedicate her life to Christ, receiving instruction in the Catholic faith from Jesuit missionaries. Her Christian faith, her modesty, and her decision to remain a virgin caused her entire extended family to turn against her, looking upon her as an embarrassment. According to one of her early biographers, her family would refuse to let her have any food on Sundays because she would not work on the Lord’s day. When she went to the chapel, they would send boys out to throw rocks at her and taunt her (their favorite taunt was “Christian,” which they shouted with disgust, as if it were “dog”).
The uncle particularly resented Kateri’s decision to preserve her virginity, because he was a tribal chief and could benefit politically if he were able to marry her off. So, in a particularly heinous attempt to humiliate his niece, he encouraged his drunken, violent friends to pursue her around the village, attempting to molest her.
Yet, despite all her trauma, Kateri never took her inner gaze off the Crucified One. The abuse and persecution she suffered only served to unite her more closely with the abused and persecuted Christ. As Pope Benedict said at her canonization Mass, “May her example help us to live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.”
Photo source: The Huletts Current.