Pope Benedict XVI has named seven new saints, including the first Native American to be canonised.
Kateri Tekakwitha, known as “Lily of the Mohawks”, who for centuries has been a symbol of hope for the long-oppressed American Indians, was canonised in a lavish ceremony in St Peter’s Square that followed her beatification in 1980 by the late pope John Paul II.
Native American pilgrims in headdresses came to the Vatican to see the canonisation.
Pope Benedict delivered a homily praising all seven new saints, saying they “lived their lives in total consecration to God and in generous service to their brothers”.
About 80,000 faithful from numerous countries gathered on the square outside St Peter’s Basilica, which was decked with portraits of those being canonised.
The other new saints include a French missionary to Madagascar, a young Philippine missionary who died at the age of 17, a German migrant to the United States who took care of lepers and a Spanish nun who campaigned for women’s rights.
Vatican watchers said the choice of the saints was linked to the Roman Catholic Church’s efforts to highlight the need for a “new evangelisation” as church pews empty in Europe and the US.
The canonisations were announced during a synod of 262 bishops from around the world.
Tekakwitha, who was born in 1656 to an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, was converted by Jesuit missionaries as a child.
After being left scarred and partially blind from smallpox and being orphaned, she earned a following for her deep spiritualism before dying at just 24.
Tradition holds that her scars vanished at the time of her death – considered a miracle that paved the way for her beatification in 1980.
Sainthood was assured when the Pope certified a second miracle last year, the recovery of an 11-year-old Native American boy from flesh-eating bacteria after his parents prayed for divine intervention through Tekakwitha in 2006.
“She lived a life radiant with faith and purity,” the Pope said, adding that Tekakwitha should be a symbol of a renewal of faith among indigenous peoples.