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Before we get started with the saints, guess how many days I’ve spent time outdoors for this commitment? Yes, for those of you steadfastly counting, it’s been 160 days! Does that qualify for sainthood? (NO, just kidding!)
Last night Barry and I pulled our Buick into the Bishop Baraga Shrine parking lot. The Bishop, who hasn’t really yet been declared an “official” saint, but whose 62 presumed miracles in his lifetime have qualified him for consideration, is memorialized in a sixty foot high shrine overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. A thirty-five foot high hand-wrought brass statue of the “Snowshoe Priest” complete with cross and snowshoes towers above the traffic down on US 41, along the red rocks.
We’re not Catholic, and I haven’t pulled in that parking lot in maybe twenty or twenty five years. But last night, with the sun shining so beautifully behind Bishop Baraga, a photo opportunity presented itself. I was surprised to see the aura around his statue when uploading the pictures. Maybe he really is a saint!
Whether or whether not he might be a saint, I do admire the man for some things. He had a big heart. He cared deeply for many of the native folks. He walked hundreds and hundreds of miles on snowshoes! That alone qualifies him for sainthood, in my non-Catholic opinion.
Today, still thinking about the Bishop, I decided to wander down to a small Catholic church near Zeba, on the Keweenaw Bay. The church honors another “almost Saint” named Kateri Tekakwitha. Her serene peaceful countenance shines out from above the door of the church, which is no longer used as a worship site.
Kateri has always fascinated me. Many devoted followers, from all faiths, religions, and spiritual beliefs, have intrigued me. She was born in 1656 in New York, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior. At age four, her mother died of smallpox. She was disfigured on her face by the disease, which leads to the question: where are the smallpox scars on her picture? Let’s look closer.
Nope, no scars. Perhaps that’s one of the miracles. I have always felt a fondness for Kateri because, on my grandma’s grandma’s grandma’s side of the family (maternal side) we’re related to natives from New York. Perhaps the Finger Lake area. That would probably be an Algonquin tribe, but there’s no accurate records. My grandmother’s mother died of the influenza of 1918. Perhaps she descended from the Mohawks. Perhaps we’re related to this saint. Stranger things have happened, right?
If the Pope won’t decide that Bishop Baraga and Kateri Tekakwitha are saints…could we nominate them for Outdoor Sainthood? Bishop Baraga is my outdoor snowshoe hero (I would probably have more snowshoe heros if there were names attached) and Kateri used to rise every morning before 4 a.m. and wait in the bitter cold for the church doors to open. She died at age twenty four. She was the first native to be declared a “Blessed”, whatever that might mean, and is a patroness of the environment and ecology, along with St. Francis of Assisi.
Since I know absolutely nothing about sainthood, I would like to suggest that perhaps our two local almost-saints simply had really big hearts. Big hearts full of prayer and joy and sharing and beauty.