Friday, 14 July is the feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha is the patron saint of traditional ecology, Indigenous Peoples, and care for creation.
Born into the Mohawk in Upstate New York in the middle of the 17th Century, she lost her family when she was a small child and experienced a violent and turbulent period in the history of the Mohawk people. As a young woman, she chose to be baptized despite the resistance of her family and her people, and to commit her life to God. Read more of her life story here.
St Kateri was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012, thus becoming the first female Native American and First Nations saint.
The relevance of her life and witness to our modern world has grown in recent years rather than diminished. In her recognition of the inherent dignity of all people, she offers a bridge of peace between European and other immigrants and the Indigenous Peoples; between people and all of creation, and between people and God. Her identification as the patron of traditional ecology and care for creation highlights the need for a more harmonious and interdependent relationship with the earth, and an appreciation of the preciousness of all earth’s resources.
Throughout Laudato Si’ Pope Francis emphasises our interdependence on and interconnectedness with the earth and each other. That perspective, which is central to the lifestyle and spirituality of indigenous peoples, can benefit all of us: “We should listen more to indigenous peoples and learn from their way of life to properly understand that we cannot continue to greedily devour natural resources, because ‘the Earth was entrusted to us in order that it be mother for us, capable of giving to each one what is necessary to live’. Therefore, the contribution of indigenous peoples is essential in the fight against climate change.” Pope Francis, February 2023
Placing the people and land of Canada under the protection of St Kateri in July 2022, Pope Francis acknowledged that her holiness and faith derived not only from her prayer life and virtue, but “were also made possible by certain noble and virtuous traits inherited from her community and the indigenous environment in which she grew up.” At that same event, Pope Francis pointed to the determination of holy women like Mary and St Kateri not to be bound by convention, tradition or expectation but rather to follow their own path, whatever the odds. “Our Lady and Saint Kateri, received from God a plan for their lives, and, without asking any man, courageously assented to it. Those two women could have responded irately to anyone who opposed that plan, or simply submitted to the patriarchal rules of the time and given up, without battling for the dreams that God himself had inspired in them. They chose not to do that, but instead, with meekness and determination, with prophetic words and decisive gestures, they blazed a trail and accomplished what they had been called to do.” Pope Francis, Canada, 29 July 2022.
More and more data is being made available to indicate that women and girls feel the impact of climate change most acutely and that the climate crisis is a major contribution to gender inequality, particularly in the global south. Read more here
St Kateri’s convictions and courage might empower and inspire a greater sense of female solidarity with women who are struggling, and encourage us to advocate and challenge inaction on their behalf.
On her feast day, as we remember St Kateri and the legacy of her short life, may we open our hearts to God’s invitation to reconnect with the earth, receive the wisdom and courage to care authentically for creation, and actively work to safeguard the people and livelihoods jeopardised by our unwillingness to recognise that we are all one. St Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.