Chicago Native American group heads to Rome for Kateri Tekakwitha canonization

October 17, 2012 2:28:11 PM PDT
A group of Chicagoans is heading to Rome this week to see history being made. Pope Benedict XVI will canonize the first Native American saint, Kateri Tekakwitha, a woman whose story is a bridge between the Catholic Church and Native Americans.

Charles and Jolene Roy, of Chicago, and their 8-year old daughter, Amber, are heading to Rome for the canonization. The jingle of amber's Native American dress symbolizes this journey of culture and faith.

"To know we're going to go in a couple of days is amazing, almost a miracle," said Charles Roy.

Kateri Tekakwitha was a young Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century in what is now upstate New York. There's a shrine for her there. Orphaned by a smallpox epidemic and left with scars, she converted to Catholicism under Jesuit missionaries. Though nearly blind, she lived a faith-filled simple life and died at the age of 24.

"Now, she's a magnificent role model for women and my daughter and all native peoples. We needed her, we really needed her," said Jolene Aleck Roy.

There are thousands of people with Native American heritage here in the Chicago area. And on the North Side, there is a Catholic Center - the Kateri Center - whose focus is on that vibrant Native American community. Appropriately, it's named after the woman who will soon become a saint.

Members of the center are preparing to make the trip as well, taking along gifts which they hope can be presented to Pope Benedict.

"After all the prayers that's been said through the years, over 300 some years, and now it's happening. It's overwhelming," said Irene Bigeagle, who is heading to Rome.

"This is something you feel in here, and now that there's one of us in the church has a direct line with God, that's pretty big," said Michael Reszler, also heading to Rome.

And it's big, in other ways, for little 8-year-old Amber Roy.

"I wanna have fun and I wanna try new things out," she said.

The Chicago Native American group leaves Thursday night for their trip of a lifetime to Rome.


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