Native American celebration honors Blessed Kateri and a unique heritage

GREENVILLEThe sounds and rhythms of the Native American drums and flutes reverberated in St. Anthony of Padua Church recently.

The non-traditional music provided a perfectly traditional backdrop for the inaugural Native American Heritage Celebration, held at St. Anthony on Nov. 12.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone celebrated Mass with Franciscan Father Paul M. Williams, Vicar for African-American Catholics, who also presented the homily.

Participants included many locals whose names and native garb celebrated their heritage, such as Janis River Cat Riddle, Rachel Wind Dancer Riddle and Joseph Red Cloud Sequoyah Riddle.

At the conclusion of Mass, Gene White Bull Norris, chief of the Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation talked about what the day meant for his “small tribe” of 500, located in Laurens County.

“I am truly happy to be here, and thank you for allowing us to have this celebration here,” Norris said. “This is a great time of celebration for us. We appreciate the church allowing us in, and allowing us to celebrate along with them.”

Mary Louise Wolf Woman Worth, the tribe’s vice chief, spoke about the continuing efforts to have Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American who died in 1680, canonized.

After her conversion to Christianity, Worth said, Blessed Kateri was known to lay on a bed of thorns and walk on burning coals as she prayed for the conversion of her kinsmen. At the time of her death at age 24, it was reported that her lifelong scars from illness vanished, and that several sick people were healed as they walked in her funeral procession.

“The process for canonization began in 1884,” Worth said. “She was later beatified on June 22, 1980, by Pope John Paul II. She is the first Native American to be so honored, and as such she holds a special place of devotion among the native peoples of North America.”

After Worth’s comments, the congregation recited the prayer for the canonization of Blessed Kateri. Then they gathered in a nearby building for a catered feast of traditional Native American dishes, including corn-on-the-cob roasted in the husks, and simple, fried corn cakes.

Norris said the celebration, which was sponsored by the Office of Ethnic Ministries, was an opportunity to expose Catholics of all races to Native American heritage.

“It also introduces them to what is happening inside the Catholic Church as far as the Native American people are concerned,” Norris said. “It’s outreach and enjoyment of the Catholic Church and Native American culture.”