The Feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the patroness of ecology and the environment: A holy person for our day and its challenges and opportunities.
Kateri Tekakwitha, daughter of a Christian Algonquin and a non-Christian Mohawk, was named to this patronage even before her final naming as a Saint. (To achieve Sainthood, one more miracle must be accredited to her intercession.)
Kateri, the first “blessed” of Native American ethnicity, was baptized after several years of instructions by French Jesuits. Orphaned by smallpox at age four, she lived with the tribe of her father near present-day Auriesville, New York. Tribe members shunned her after her conversion and refused her food when, in compliance with the Sabbath, she did no work on Sundays. Her life became so uncomfortable and even dangerous that she eventually fled to St. Francis Mission in Canada and tried to found an order for Native Americans. Though unable to do so, she remained a virgin and showed a deep concern for others and their needs.
She is sometimes pictured with the Cross in one hand and a turtle and evergreen tree in the other. It is said that she carried a home-made cross with her when working so that she could recall Jesus and pray to Him frequently. She also practiced severe austerity including self-whipping and placing thorns in her bed as penances and spent hours in prayer barefooted in the cold Canadian forest. It is believed that these practices were largely responsible for her early death at age 24 in 1680.
We know that our world faces serious environmental and ecological issues today. Scientific studies about carbon footprints, the urgency and causes of climate change, whether there can truly be “clean,” coal plants, etc. often conflict with one another. However, it is clear that problems are significant even as we may disagree about the best solutions.
Care of the Earth and its gifts have been on the Roman Catholic “agenda” for some time “We are concerned about the negative consequences for humanity and for all creation resulting from the degradation of some basic natural resources such as water, air, and land, brought about by an economic and technological progress which does not recognize and take into account its limits,” Declaration on the Environment by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, 2002.
Further, they declare, “A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A genuine conversion in Christ will enable us to change the way we think and act.”
A “change of heart,” to sustain our attention and ongoing commitment to values and actions that will result in sustainability and ecological healing. A change of heart to continue to show us the adventure in re-cycling and re-using. A change of heart to motivate our dedication to a reduced use of natural resources and to our search for local and global solutions to these challenges.
Blessed Kateri is just the person we need at this time. May we be blessed by her with the passion to make the critical individual and collective changes essential for responsible stewardship of the natural gifts with which we have been entrusted.
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