Pope Benedict signed documents that acknowledge several miracles attributed to the intervention of four women and three men who will shortly be canonised as saints of the Catholic Church. One of the new blesseds is Kateri Tekakwitha, the first native North American to be so recognized, according to a December 20 Vatican news release. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 in Ossernenon (present-day Auriesville, U.S.A.). Her father was a Mohawk chief and her mother a Roman Catholic Algonquian who had been educated by French missionaries. At the age of four she lost her family in a smallpox epidemic which also left her disfigured and nearly blind. Adopted by a relative, the chief of neighboring clan, she continued to nurture an interest in Christianity and was baptized at the age of 20.
The members of her tribe did not understand her new religion and thus marginalized her, according to the Vatican. In the announcement, it was mentioned that Kateri practiced "physical mortification as a path of sanctity and praying for the conversion of her relatives." Having suffered persecutions which put her life at risk, she was forced to flee to a native American Christian community in Kahnawake, Quebec where she made a vow of chastity and lived a life dedicated to prayer, penance, and care for the sick and elderly. She died in 1680 at the age of 24. Her last words were: "Jesus, I love you". According to tradition, Kateri's scars disappeared after her death to reveal a woman of great beauty, and numerous sick people who participated in her funeral were miraculously healed.
The process of canonization of Kateri began in 1884. She was declared venerable by Pius XII in 1943 and beatified by John Paul II in 1980, being called 'Blessed' Kateri ever since. Her feast day is noted on July 14.
Other native born people of the North American continent have been recognized in the past by the Vatican for their sanctity. The term 'North American' is apparently used by the Vatican press service as referring to modern-day Canada and the United States, rather than to all of the republics stretching from Canada all the way to Panama, which is where geographers have designated as the place where the two continents of the Americas are conjoined. Other native persons of non-European language groups have been recognized in the past for their sanctity: among them are Juan Diego - the visionary of Guadalupe - an Aztec man of colonial Mexico.