Kateri Tekakwitha was named the first Native American saint today by Pope Benedict XVI in a ceremony held in St. Peter’s Square.
Some 80,000 people came to the open-air ceremony as the 17th century Mohawk-Algonquin woman and six others were canonized.
“It’s so nice to see God showing all the flavors of the world,” Gene Caldwell, a Native American member of the Menominee reservation in Neopit, Wis., who attended with his wife, told the Associated Press. “The Native Americans are enthralled.”
The canonization ceremony happened at the same time the world’s bishops descended on the Vatican to discuss ways to revive faith in parts of the world where it is falling by the wayside.
Among some of the select faithful who were chosen to receive communion from the pope was Jake Finkbonner.
The Washington boy was near death for months with a flesh eating bacteria, but made a miraculous recovery that the Vatican credited to Tekakwitha.
The Vatican said it believes that the prayers Finkbonner’s family directed to Tekakwitha were responsible for bringing the boy back from the brink of death.
Finkbonner cut his lip during the last minute of a Boys & Girls Club basketball game in 2006.
“I was running down court with the ball, I stopped in front of the hoop to shoot when I was pushed from behind,” Jake wrote on his website. ”I flew forward and hit my mouth on the base of the portable basketball hoop.”
Two days later, he wrote, he was in the hospital with a strep bacteria infection that had spread across his face, head and chest.
“It’s a bacteria that can cause severe infections in unusual circumstances but most of us don’t ever have any problems with it,” said Dr. Christopher Ohl, a doctor at Wake Forest Baptist Medical. “But if all of the circumstances come together and the setting is just right, it can get in through the skin and cause a severe infection.”
Ohl said the chance of survival for people with the bacteria is roughly 50-50.
At the urging of the family’s priest, the Finkbonners began praying to Tekakwitha, who converted to Christianity when she was 18 and became a fervent follower.
Her face was scarred by smallpox as a child, but it is claimed that the scars disappeared after she died in 1680 at the age of 24.