Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia believes that the seven saints who were canonized by Pope Benedict Oct. 21 should serve as models for bringing the Gospel to the modern world, and that Saint Kateri Tekakwitha in particular should be an example for young people.
She “led her Christian life rather intensely,” he recalled, “so I think she could be a patron for young adults. She committed herself to a life of chastity, which is such a great struggle for so many people in our culture today. She’s also an example to the Indian people because she was both fully Indian and fully Christian at the same time.”
Archbishop Chaput spoke to EWTN News in Rome on Oct. 22, the day after the canonization Mass. He came to Rome for the bishops’ synod on evangelization as well as yesterday’s canonizations, which included St. Kateri, the United States’ first Native American to be raised to the altars.
A Kansas native, Archbishop Chaput’s mother was a Native American of the Potawatomi tribe.
“Back in the days when I was a kid, the Feast of the North American Martyrs was in September on my birthday (Sept. 26),” said Archbishop Chaput, 68. “And growing up, I thought that because the native people of the New World had martyred those Jesuits, that I should become a priest to take their place. So it was an interesting relationship that I had with both the Indian community and with the Church. I’m very proud of my Indian ancestry, but also identifying with the missionaries to the Indian people.”
He said that St. Kateri and the other saints canonized yesterday represent “the embodiment of what Pope John Paul II called inculturation, the penetration of the Gospel into a culture … . The Gospel penetrated her life and transformed her into a saint. And this is an ongoing process for all of us.”
This comes at an encouraging time for the Church, he said, especially since the canonization took place within the context of the Synod on the New Evangelization and the opening of the Year of Faith.
“The word of God is always new in the sense that it causes life and gives birth. So in some ways the New Evangelization isn’t so much about evangelization, it’s about us—encouraging the people of the Church to reach out to those who are nominally Christian but not practicing – or to look at our hearts and see if we’ve really been simply catechized and not evangelized.”
Archbishop Chaput has “great hopes” that after the synod “the New Evangelization really will become a focus of the Church.
“Synods are useful only insofar as people back home take it seriously. That’s always the trick – to get pastors and parishes to read the documents that come out of a synod, to believe them, and to put them into practice.”
For the Church in Philadelphia, “we’ve had a difficult time recently, so this synod comes about at a very important time for us,” the archbishop said.
He also sees the Year of Faith as “a moment of renewal … as it is for everybody in the Church.”
“I hope we take it seriously and use it as a moment of stepping out of darkness into light.”
The two events also have a take on a special meaning for the Philadelphia archdiocese because of an international gathering it will tentatively host in 2015.
“We see the Year of Faith and this synod on the new evangelization as an antechamber to that celebration of the World Meeting of Families, to get people enthusiastic about being host to it,” Archbishop Chaput said.
Speaking about the New Evangelization itself – presenting the Gospel anew to people in the 21st century –Archbishop Chaput said that cultural versus authentic Catholicism is a big hurdle.
“Philadelphia has a strong Catholic history,” he explained, “but the danger in having a strong Catholic history is that sometimes it takes the faith for granted.
“I think that part of my responsibility in Philadelphia will be moving all of us from being cultural Catholics to being evangelical Catholics. That’s a difficult task. Sometimes it’s easier to bring people along who don’t identify themselves as Catholics, than people who are Catholic historically and don’t practice it but think that they know everything and are Catholic already. In some sense they’re less open to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.
“It’s a big task ahead, but with the Holy Spirit’s presence, we can always do great things,” he said.
Shortly after his interview with EWTN News, Archbishop Chaput celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving in St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Accompanied to music from a Native American band and choir, thousands of worshipers packed the basilica. The homily was given by Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., where St. Kateri came from.
“She gives a truly counter-cultural example to live chastity today,” Bishop Hubbard said of the first Native American women recorded as making perpetual vows of virginity. “Her life serves as an antidote to the individualism of our age…of showing the acceptance of the Cross of Christ par excellence.”
He noted that St. Kateri, whose face was scarred with small pox, died “with the last words, ‘Jesus, I love you.’” And just after she died, the priests at her bedside reported that “the scars that had ruined her face from childhood were healed miraculously.”