S+L logo

A Cloud of Witnesses

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

November 21, 2012
Pope Benedict XVI canonizes three new saints
from the countries where the Knights of Columbus are present.
By: Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB 
On World Mission Sunday, Oct. 21, during the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI canonized seven new saints. Among them were two martyrs (a French Jesuit missionary to Madagascar and a young Filipino layman); two founders of religious congregations (an Italian priest and a Spanish sister); two laywomen (a Native American and a German), and a German religious sister who worked in a leper colony.
Three of the new saints spent their lives in countries where the Knights of Columbus is present today.
Mother Marianne Cope (1838–1918), formerly Barbara Koob (now officially Cope), was born Jan. 23, 1838, and baptized the following day in what is now western Germany. Her family emigrated to America shortly thereafter, where Barbara labored for a time as a factory worker before pursuing a vocation to the religious life.
The young Sister Marianne worked as a teacher and hospital administrator, and in 1870 was elected superior of St. Joseph's Hospital in Syracuse, N.Y. In 1883, she received an unexpected invitation from Father Leonor Fouesnel, emissary of the Hawaiian government, to come and help the "afflicted members" of the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Mother Marianne responded to the invitation to assist with the care of lepers on the island of Molokai. She left with six sisters in 1883, planning to get them settled and then return to Syracuse. However, after five years of managing a hospital in Honolulu, Mother Marianne herself volunteered to go to Molokai to work with the lepers who had been exiled there.
The life of Mother Marianne complements the life of St. Damien of Molakai (1840-1889), beloved for his self-sacrifice for the lepers of Hawaii. Mother Marianne spent the last 30 years of her life working closely with Father Damien and with the outcasts of society. When she died at the age of 80 in 1918, a Honolulu newspaper wrote:
Seldom has the opportunity come to a woman to devote every hour of 30 years to the mothering of people isolated by law from the rest of the world. She risked her own life all that time, faced everything with unflinching courage, and was known for her gentle smile.
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, known as the "Lily of the Mohawks", was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 in upstate New York. At the age of 4, smallpox attacked Kateri's village, taking the lives of her parents and baby brother and leaving Kateri with facial scars and seriously impaired eyesight. Although terribly weakened, scarred and partially blind, she survived and was adopted by her uncle, a Mohawk chief.
Kateri's family did not accept her choice to embrace Christianity. After her baptism, she became the village outcast and was threatened with torture or death if she did not renounce her religion. Due to the increasing hostility from her people and because she wanted to devote her life to God, Kateri left her village in July 1677 and fled more than 200 miles to the Catholic mission at Sault Saint-Louis, near Montreal.
On March 25, 1679, Kateri made a vow of perpetual virginity, choosing to remain unmarried and totally devoted to Christ for the rest of her life.
The following year, Kateri died at the age of 24. Her last words were, "Jesus, I love you," and the scars on her face reportedly disappeared immediately after her death.
Kateri is the first native North American saint. Her earthly life was hidden in the 17th century, yet her message continues to resound today.
A third newly canonized saint who models for us passion and devotion to God is the young migrant, sacristan and missionary catechist, St. Pedro Calungsod, from the Cebu province of the Philippines.
Few details of Pedro's early life prior to his missionary work and death are known. He was a young lay missionary who traveled abroad to proclaim Christ to others. On April 2, 1672, he suffered a martyr's death in modern-day Guam at the age of 17 while trying to defend a Jesuit priest (Blessed Diego Luis de San Vitores) from those who hated Christianity. The attacker killed Pedro with a spear and a machete, and the bodies of Father Diego Luis and Pedro were then tied together and thrown into the sea, never to be found again.
The faith that was planted in the Philippines and Guam in 1668 did not die with Father Diego Luis, Pedro Calungsod and the first missionaries there.
St. Pedro Calungsod is now the second Filipino saint after St. Lorenzo Ruiz, who was martyred in Japan in 1637. Like St. Marianne Cope and St. Kateri Tekakwitha, St. Pedro is now honored among the "great cloud of witnesses"that continue to inspire and surround us, showing us the way to our heavenly homeland (cf. Heb 12:1).
Amid conflict, suffering and martyrdom, these saints remained present to the people around them. Through their lives, they modeled for us authentic human relationships, with their feet firmly planted on earth and their eyes fixed on heaven.
This article appeared in Columbia Magazine, November 2012 issue.  Posted here courtesy of the Knights of Columbus Supreme Council.
Photo credit:
All above Photos: CNS photo/ Paul Haring (October 21, 2012).