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CNY Cover Photo Oct. 5, 2000

CNY Feature Story

New Saints

Pope canonizes Mother Drexel, Chinese martyrs and Sudanese slave


Pope John Paul II canonized the second U.S.-born saint, Mother Katharine Drexel, and said her use of a family fortune to help educate the poor was a shining example of American generosity.

At a jubilee Mass Oct. 1, the pope praised Mother Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress, for recognizing the dangers of racism in U.S. society, then giving all she had--spiritually and materially--to fight it. She eventually founded more than 60 schools for African-Americans and Native Americans.

"Her apostolate helped bring about a growing awareness of the need to combat all forms of racism through education and social services," the pope said.

"Katharine Drexel is an excellent example of that practical charity and generous solidarity with the less fortunate which has long been the distinguishing mark of American Catholics," he said.

During the two-hour Mass in St. Peter's Square, the pope also canonized 120 Chinese martyrs, calling them models of courage for all China. Responding indirectly to criticism from Chinese authorities, the pope said the 87 natives of China and 33 foreign missionaries all loved China, and their canonization was an honor for the country.

PhotoAlso declared saints were Sister Josephine Bakhita, an African slave from Sudan who became a member of the Daughters of Charity, and Sister Maria Josefa Sancho de Guerra, a Spaniard who founded a religious order, the Sister Servants of Jesus of Charity, in the late 1800s.

More than 3,000 rain-dampened U.S. pilgrims applauded as the sainthood decree for Mother Drexel was read at the start of the Mass. A banner hung from the facade of St. Peter's Basilica depicted Mother Drexel walking with two schoolchildren, an African-American boy and an Indian girl.

The second reading, from the letter of James, was a pointed warning to the wealthy: "You rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted, your fine wardrobe has grown moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion shall be a testimony against you."

In his homily, the pope contrasted that warning with the conviction of young Katharine Drexel that "her family's possessions were not for them alone but were meant to be shared with the less fortunate." Born in 1858, she came to inherit an investment banking fortune worth $14 million.

The pope described how, as a young woman in the late 1800s, she was deeply moved by the suffering endured by many African-Americans and Native Americans. Using her inheritance, she built missions and schools to help them.

She later decided to become a nun and founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, which carried out a teaching apostolate among the poor. The pope noted that Mother Drexel taught a spirituality that combined prayerful union with the Eucharistic Lord and zealous service to the victims of racial discrimination.

He said he hoped this example of faith in action would appeal to young people today, showing them there is nothing better than following Christ with an undivided heart and sharing one's gifts in the service of others, to build a more just world.

Among those who came to Rome for Mother Drexel's canonization were many who had met her personally before her death in 1955, including some who had been taught in her schools.

Attending the Mass were members of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose 225 nuns run more than 40 schools and ministry sites in 13 states. Also present were faculty, students and alumni of Xavier University of Louisiana, which Mother Drexel founded in 1915 and which became a leading institution for black education in the segregated South. The Xavier University Concert Choir sang at the liturgy.

Among those seated near the altar was Robert Gutherman, whose cure from inner ear disease in 1974 was attributed to the miraculous intercession of Mother Drexel.

Earlier this year, Church authorities officially recognized another miracle attributed to Mother Drexel's intercession when a U.S. girl, Amy Wall, was cured of deafness in 1994. That cleared the way for Mother Drexel's canonization, completing a process that began 36 years ago in Philadelphia.

The pope opened the Mass by saying that "the People of God, scattered across the whole earth, is gathered here today, from Asia and Africa, from America and Europe." Whether through the shedding of blood or the witness of daily life, all the new saints were "bold and courageous prophets of the Gospel," he said.

The Mass was enlivened by an energetic offertory procession featuring singing, dancing and electric-guitar music of Africa and an incense-bearing procession of Chinese Catholics in traditional costumes.

The pope's homily touched briefly on a recent war of words between the Vatican and China over the canonizations, which Chinese authorities claimed would exalt "criminals" who were condemned and executed under Chinese law. Most of the martyrs died in the anti-foreigner Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

The pope said the canonization Mass was not the moment to "form judgments on these historical periods."

"Today...the Church intends only to recognize that these martyrs are an example of courage and integrity for all of us and do honor to the noble Chinese people," he said.

Speaking of St. Josephine Bakhita, the pope said the one-time slave could become a model of "genuine emancipation" for the many women who continue to be victimized in modern society.

"The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights," he said.

The pope also spoke of the civil war that plagues modern Sudan and appealed to the country's leaders to "open your hearts to the cries of millions of innocent victims and embrace the path of negotiation."

"I plead with the international community not to ignore this immense human tragedy," he said.


Black Catholics Celebrate Canonizations at Bronx Mass


As her image was placed at the altar during a Mass in the Bronx, a new saint found a place in the hearts of many who had not heard of her before.

St. Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese slave of the 19th century, was canonized Oct. 1 in Rome, along with St. Katharine Drexel, a white Philadelphia banking heiress who is more familiar to the African-American community.

Several hours after they were declared saints in Rome, both women were hailed by a predominantly African-American congregation for seeking to right wrongs and teaching forgiveness and the dignity of the human person.

"We who are descendants of slaves are deeply moved and touched," said Father James E. Goode, O.F.M., in a homily at a Mass he celebrated at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Co-Op City in the Bronx. "We who have come this far by faith give thanks to the Church and to Pope John Paul II" for canonizing the two, he said.

St. Katharine, who lived from 1858 to 1955, "gave her life so that African-Americans might have an opportunity to go to school," Father Goode said. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and established nearly 65 schools and missions, including several in Harlem, and Xavier University in Louisiana, the only predominantly African-American Catholic institution of higher learning in the U.S.

PhotoSt. Josephine was born in 1869 and enslaved for 10 years. Sold several times, she was finally bought by the Italian consul in Sudan, who took her to Italy in 1885. He gave her to a friend, and she worked as the family's nanny. With the family's daughter, she began taking religious education classes taught by the Canossian Daughters of Charity in Venice and eventually became a Catholic. Three years later, in 1893, she entered the Canossian Sisters' novitiate. She dedicated her life to the poor and served the order as a cook, seamstress and doorkeeper. She died in 1947 at age 78.

Father Goode, guardian of St. Clare Friary in Manhattan, said that the image of St. Josephine inspired him to get involved in a current movement against slavery in Sudan. A 17-year-old civil war in the northeast African country has claimed some 2 million lives. Islamic captors from the north of the country have enslaved many children in the largely Christian south.

He urged listeners to sign a petition against slavery at the Web site www.solidground ministry.com and said he hopes to send 10,000 signatures to Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir on Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

"No longer will people say that African-Americans in this country are silent when their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, are in bondage," he said.

After the prayer of the faithful, Father Goode, who is also president of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus and the National Black Catholic Apostolate for Life, led the congregation in a Pledge for Life. Oct. 1 was Respect Life Sunday.

He urged listeners to protect their children from violence in the media and "adopt children who have no one to care for them." Not everyone can build schools as St. Katharine Drexel did, but "we can build educational foundations in our families," he said.

"Usually, there is more than one chair at the kitchen table," he told some 250 African-Americans from the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Westchester. "That's where I learned how to write." He said that even if a person doesn't have children, "there's a child somewhere who needs to learn to read or learn that you don't need a gun in your pocket to be somebody; there are young girls who need to learn that they don't have to be pregnant to be somebody."

After Mass, Dr. Christopher Adubor, a native of Nigeria who attended with his wife, Margaret, and 3-year-old son Obehi, said the fact that the two new saints came from radically different backgrounds "gives hope for us in Christ, whether we be rich or poor."

"We can give of ourselves whether we have money or not," he told CNY.

For Naomi Byrd, coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry for southern Westchester, who did not know St. Josephine until a few months ago, "it's so weird to hear about someone who is black like me and has become a saint."

The image of St. Josephine will be the centerpiece of a shrine at Solid Ground Ministry in Manhattan, which Father Goode directs.

The border of the image was adorned by blots of paint symbolizing the many beatings and brandings inflicted on St. Josephine's body. Father Rey V. Culaba, C.Ss.R., director of BUKLOD, a Redemptorist mission for migrant workers in Rome, painted the border on a recent visit to New York. "Her slave scars have now become glorified in heaven," he explained to Father Goode.

Music for the Mass was led by the St. Michael the Archangel Gospel Choir under the direction of Robert Green. The offertory procession included a relic of St. Josephine and a medal of St. Katharine.

The pope also canonized 120 martyrs of China and Sister Maria Josefa Sancho de Guerra, a Spaniard who founded the Sister Servants of Jesus of Charity in the 1800s. The Chinese martyrs included seven Franciscan Missionaries of Mary who were killed during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.

Sister Mary Motte, F.M.M., superior of the Franciscan Missionaries Province of the United States, spoke at Mass Oct. 1 at Immaculate Conception Church on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, where the province is headquartered.

"We know from their letters they knew what could happen," Sister Mary said. "They were ordinary women, and yet they found a deep courage that enabled them to face death for their faith in God and their love of the people among whom they had been sent in mission."


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