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Charting a New ‘Faith Future’ at the Annual Tekakwitha Conference

August 4, 2017


 

Late in July, over 800 registrants from across the United States and Canada gathered in Rapid City for the annual Tekakwitha Conference. Held in honor of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680), a young Mohawk/Algonquin woman who became the first Native American saint, the conference brings together Native Catholics from every corner of the continent to explore and deepen the relationship between indigenous peoples and the Church. 

The year’s conference was one of the largest in recent years—and members of Red Cloud’s parish team worked tirelessly to make the conference a success. From serving on the planning committee and leading workshops and panel discussions, to creating special programming to engage young people, to gathering Star Quilts to honor significant participants, they channeled their collective energy in order to create a powerful and deeply inspirational experience for all those gathered.

Fr. Peter Klink S.J., who has served at Red Cloud as an educator, administrator, and minister for over 40 years, delivered the conference’s first keynote address titled Our Energy Today: In-Spirited for a Faith Future. He encouraged attendees to reflect on the future of the movement that once formed around the canonization of St. Kateri. Reflecting on his personal experiences during past conferences, Fr. Klink invited those gathered to explore how they can continue to work as a community to “bring everyone together as family and light them on fire with faith!” 

In this excerpt from his address, he reflects on what may inspire this new “Faith Future:”

 

 

"We have to recognize that some of that vibrancy, that life, and that committed energy of past Tekakwitha Conferences was anchored in the efforts to encourage and pray for the canonization of Blessed Kateri. But that vibrancy also had to do with what we can be and mean for each other in living a lively faith. The celebration of the sainthood of St. Kateri is the invitation, it seems to me, for us all to ask how we can continue to grow the lively faith that has blessed so many through the intercession of St. Kateri these past decades. The challenge and the invitation of St. Kateri and of our loving God to us now and today is basically, “now what?”

How is the Spirit inviting and calling us to be a lively experience of God’s Good News today? How is the Spirit inviting and calling us to bring that vibrant Good News to grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren throughout Indian Country and throughout the Church today? The energy and vibrant faith of the past gatherings can and needs to be carried forward in ways that all of us – elders down to the toddlers – can celebrate in wonderful new ways.

As I thought about St. Kateri in preparation for this conference, I imagined her as described and often depicted walking through and amidst the beauty of Uŋči Makȟá – Mother Earth – and placing crosses on the trees as she walked. I am sure that she did so to honor and glorify the Creator of all of this abundant life that surrounds us and nurtures us, giving thanks for the utter gift of His creation and giving Him thanks and honor. 

However, I also thought about how St. Kateri was not walking amidst and marking the trees only for her own faith but for the faith of all who might walk amidst those same trees. She left those crosses also for others, so that their hearts and their minds might be lifted up in faith and in praise. While the crosses, seen by her later would remind her to lift her heart in praise, I would think that she wanted to invite and enliven the faith of others. These little crosses, placed amidst the branches of the trees, were meant to remind others of our call to faith and God’s abundant goodness. The crosses were placed for the faith and the life of others and to remind them of wóyuonihaŋ, as the Lakota remind us – respect and in that respect opening our eyes to the Creator whose love is reflected in all things!

 

 

 

Every year now since the first Tekakwitha gathering of men and women praying to and for the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Kateri has invited us – like those little crosses – to live our faith more deeply, more lovingly, more filled with the love and promise of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. In a very real sense and in her holy and saintly ways, St. Kateri became a “little (and not so little!) cross,” a reminder of the sacred and its call to faith for so many of us. I am sure that much of the energy of the conferences of the past has been provided not only by the faith of St. Kateri but by the inspiration and hopes for the recognition of Blessed Kateri as a Saint among the Saints in heaven. 

As we now look to the future, how might St. Kateri be inviting us to recognize the other symbols (the other “crosses on the trees” and crosses in our midst, if you will) of the Church that call us to deeper faith and greater life? Might not St. Kateri, for example, now be inviting us to be called by, to pray for, and to seek the intercession of Nicholas Black Elk, while we and the Church consider a possible promotion process and work for his canonization? We are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of faith-witnesses in the holy men and women of the Church.

Those past Tekakwitha Conferences were positive faith gatherings and experiences for the entire family – grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren. We have a lot of praying and discussing to do, it seems to me. But all of that praying and discussing about future lively conferences is a blessed invitation to a richer experience of lives that matter, lives of meaning and purpose, lives of love and being loved – gifted to be gift, blessed to be blessing.

How can we be that for our grandparents and elders, for our children and their spouses, for the Wakȟáŋhežha – the Sacred Ones, the grandchildren and youth? What is our true energy today? How are we in-spirited in our shared faith? And, how can that faith chart for our entire family and us a solid Faith Future? Let’s walk and let’s walk together as intentional disciples of an incredibly enriching and satisfying Good News! May St. Kateri intercede for us and may our loving God bless us in our shared and in-spirited journey of faith together!”

Photos Courtesy of Fr. Peter Klink, S.J. and Rapid City Diocese  


 

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