Terry Witherell

The Diocese of Baker, Oregon, is not easy to get to; it encompasses more than 66,000 square miles of the eastern side of Oregon. There is incredible beauty there, but also much poverty.

Catholic Extension recently had the opportunity to visit this mission diocese. One of our stops was the Warm Springs Reservation, where we had the chance to sit down and talk with some Native Americans who had just returned from Rome. Many of them had never been on a plane before, let alone traveled outside the United States! But they went to Rome to be part of history – they were there to witness the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who died in 1680. Because Saint Kateri was the first native from North America to be canonized, Native Americans from all across the mission dioceses traveled to Rome to be part of this momentous event.

A Saint Kateri Pilgrimage
Parishioners of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mission after returning from their pilgrimage to New York and Rome.

The group from Baker, led by Bishop Liam Carey, first went on a pilgrimage to Kateri’s birthplace in upstate New York. They told us how incredible it was to walk where Kateri walked. Then, they traveled on to Rome. It took a great deal of time and effort for them to raise the money to make this trip, but it was important to them to be there. We asked them what this meant to them and to their faith as Catholics, and they talked of the great pride they felt – and the emotion – at seeing one of their own become a saint.

Coleen, one of the women we met that evening, did not feel comfortable speaking up at the meeting. So she sent a long letter to me afterwards, though, to be sure she shared her witness of the impact the event had on her.

A Saint Kateri Pilgrimage
Catholic Extension’s history with Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mission began with it’s original construction and establishment in 1942.

She said that the day of the canonization in Rome was an unbelievable event at St. Peter’s Square. “I managed to get a seat, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow! I never thought I would be sitting on a chair for Mass in St. Peter's Square, how lucky was this!’ As soon as Kateri was declared a Saint, I was ready to cry, knowing this was well worth the journey to be here right now, and I was so overjoyed.” Coleen said she plans to put all of her memories down in a journal, so that she can pass it on to her daughters.

Saint Paul says that we are all called to be saints. What a gift it is to be able to see in one of the saints someone who is like us, with whom we feel we can identify.

A Saint Kateri Pilgrimage
The strong faith of Saint Kateri has long been a sign of hope for Native Americans across the United States.

We meet so many saints in the mission dioceses, men and women who are sharing their faith and their love of God by serving others. Our Christmas edition of Extension magazine highlights many of the saints of our country and their road to sainthood. Read some of the stories when you get a chance, and be inspired by their stories… as we are inspired every time we visit the mission dioceses.