On the Road to Rome
October 5th 2012 · 1 Comment
Within the next three weeks, the Mohawk Valley will be thrust onto the international map for distinction as the home of two women of valor: both St. Marianne Cope from Utica and St. Kateri Tekakwitha (pronounced Guh-da-li’ Te-ka-kwee’-tha), the first Native American Saint, will be canonized in Rome on October 20, 2012.
These Sainted women will do more for our area in terms of tourism than any commission or council could ever do. The ongoing attraction of pilgrims and tourists from all over the world to this area is a reality already upon us.
The importance of these women to our community cannot be understated and thus, there have been numerous and continuing services and programs all around the area recognizing and commemorating their lives. This is a tradition long held in the Catholic Church, to remember and hold in great esteem those elevated to sainthood who were from your region.
Impact and History of Local Feasts
One such example of this is the feast and celebration of Saints Cosmas and Damian, which wrapped up this past weekend. Saint Anthony of Padua’s Catholic Church in East Utica celebrated its 100th anniversary and with it the came the 100th anniversary of the celebration of these beloved holy physicians.
Sts. Cosmas and Damian, born in what is now a part of Turkey, are known for their tending to the sick and poor and suffering martyrdom for refusing to renounce their Christianity. From the furthest reaches of the religion, their followers reveal the power of humanity’s ongoing embrace of spirituality.
According to Frank Calaprice, son of Martino Calaprice, one of the first parishioners, the church’s initial Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve Mass of 1911. Feast celebrations started in 1912.
“When the church was built, it had to be built. Italians were not welcome by other Catholic parishes in Utica. The people who worshipped there were from Bari province, the cities of Locorotondo and Alberobello and the surrounding cities and villages in that region of Italy.” said Calaprice.
“Dad came to this country when he was 16. He was a mason for 60 years and [with] construction of the church. He was born in Alberobello . . . where there is a basilica to those Saints. Th[ose] who immigrated from there brought that tradition with them. If you think it is a big deal here, you should see it in Italy.
“From my father’s stories, all of the neighboring towns highly revere the twin doctors. They brought the tradition and here we are 100 years later. Once our family moved to Corn Hill, we joined St. Francis De Sales, but Dad went back for the feast every year until he died at the age of 96.”
John Aliasso, a parishioner of St. Anthony’s and co-chair of the event, estimates that between 15,000 and 20,000 people come to town over the two days. Aliasso says, “I would venture a guess that when these folks come they spend between $450,000 and $500,000 in our community. They come here to little Utica. Between the hotels, the food and purchase of religious articles, they bring a lot of money here.
“The first thing they do when they get off of the buses is look for the Saints to pray. Money for offerings and pictures of those to be healed are taped to the statues and candles are lit for their intentions. Then they go to Mass and then they start their celebration. It is so well received that they make reservations for the next year right away and they tell other people too about how happy they are.”
Canada ships busloads of pilgrims. The festival atmosphere is like that of an over-sized living room, where people claim a picnic table, spread their food and belongings and greet one another like long lost relatives. Jugs of wine are shared, lighted candles in chianti bottles adorn plastic tablecloths. People dance with one another to the sounds of the Red Band.
Mass is said, both in the church as well as outside for the many who cannot be accommodated inside. The Saints, lined up at the base of the stairs, await on their litters to be carried in one of many candlelight processions throughout the neighborhood.
Rain or shine, the pilgrims enjoy this gathering of the faithful, sharing stories of healings or tales from long ago or fond memories of those who have passed on. This tradition holds sway over modern technology and contemporary life.
Introducing Padre Pio
Today, along with the two twin doctors, Padre Pio is also included in the celebration. St. Pio is a modern Italian saint, much beloved locally and also very revered in that same part of Italy. Damian’s and Cosmas’ feast day is September 23 and Pio’s is September 26. The saints are tied both temporally and geographically, with Pio’s homeland also on the ankle of the Italian boot.
St. Pio died in 1968 and therefore walked the planet and visited with many still living today. His performed signs and wonders, along with his years of suffering the Stigmata, the ‘wounds of Christ,” have touched and converted many souls.
Gloves that St. Pio wore to prevent his blood from spilling are circulated across the United States and have been credited with many miracles.
St. Marianne Cope
A current television commercial being aired introduces the woman healed by the prayers and intercession of St. Marianne Cope, and is considered the second miracle. The first miracle attributed to St. Marianne, was that of the healing of a Syracuse teenager who was dying of organ failure. The late Sr. Mary Laurence, who knew the family, took a relic of the Blessed Marianne to the church, and they prayed for her intercession. That teen was Kate Mahoney, who is almost thirty now.
Mother Marianne began a long and distinguished tradition of local nuns serving in the Hawaiian isles. Franciscan schools still teach children across the islands. Sr. Christine Marie, who lives at the Motherhouse in Syracuse, began her service as a teacher at St. Joseph’s School on Varick Street. She also taught 4th graders in Maui and recalls visiting Molakai and standing at Mr. Marianne’s grave. “It is a peaceful and beautiful spot,” she said. A few Lepers remain, having chosen to live out their lives in the only home they have ever known.
“Fr. Damien and Mother did as much as they could. They were living like animals. There were no homes, barely any shelter. She gave them dignity. She sent for catalogues and would make beautiful dresses for the girls with big bows or big hats. They were reminded of their beauty as human beings.
“There were hundreds of Franciscan nuns who followed Mother to Hawaii and some say the first and greatest miracle is that not one ever contracted Leprosy. But we have to go with the word of the Church.”
St. Kateri Tekakwitha
This past weekend the Church of the Holy Family of Vernon,hosted a lecture and concert in honor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian and the first Native American Saint. Grammy winning Native American songbird Joanne Shenandoah and her husband, Doug George-Kanentiio, presented to a jam-packed audience. Shenandoah is the 7th generation of the Great Chief Shenandoah, who co-founded Hamilton College one hundred years ago in 1812 as the Hamilton-Oneida Academy.
Joanne Shenandoah, Ph. D., is one of America’s most celebrated and critically acclaimed musicians. Besides her Grammy, she has earned 40 other awards, 13 of them from the Native American community. Shenandoah soothed the energy of the church hall with lyrical songs in her native language and the sweet sound of her voice and the soft strumming of her acoustical guitar. She then introduced her husband, Doug George-Kanentiio, Vice President of the Hiawatha Institute.
Much has been said of the persecution that Kateri suffered at the hands of her own people. (See Finally A Saint, www.uticaphoenix.net) But little is said of the stressors her community was under at the time of her conversion.
George-Kanentiio explained that the Mohawk population, having maintained a pristine and lush environment, was devastated by the Europeans’ introduction of Smallpox and Influenza. “At the time of Kateri’s infection in 1660, the Mohawks had been struck by Smallpox repeatedly…A generation before her birth in 1656, the Mohawks had a population, according to one estimate, of 8,000 people. That was greatly reduced to less than 2,000 by 1650, primarily due to war and disease. The implications for the Mohawks and for Kateri would have been catastrophic.”
The Mohawks had established a culture of religious tolerance and the personal and social liberty of women, who were the property-owners, the sowers of crops and the lifegivers. The Mohawks were also great advocates of peace.
But the devastation of the population, the loss of many elders who carried those traditions, and their defensive tactical position–warfare from all sides–rocked the Mohawks on their heels. Needing their women to indeed be givers of life to restore the population, it is easy to see how Kateri would be forced to marry. But she would not and did not, suffering torment and persecution by her people for her love of Christianity.
Now that Kateri has been elevated to Sainthood, Native Americans in nearby tribes resent her association with the Catholic faith and are offended by her newfound popularity.
To threats by “Traditionals” to remove Kateri from significance, George-Kanentiio responds, “This happens when you don’t understand the Iroquois traditions. We allow for, even encourage individuals to express their spirituality, in whatever form it takes. We solicit different ideas, encourage people to embrace others and strive for a meeting of the minds.
“They need to understand the circumstances and the times of Tekakwitha. There were dramatic changes going on in the Mohawk population, but our teachings are still inclusive.
“We above all should know the perils of intolerance and not to bring that hostility and ignorance forward. Our ways were considered Pagan under Christian interpretation.
“We want our best teachers from around the world to arouse peace. At this time, to hear this is embarrassing. They must understand what she endured to show her love for this holy man Jesus.”
The Auriesville Shrine, less than an hour away from Utica, attracts thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year. With Utica’s coming St. Marianne Memorial Park on Schuyler Street, St. Joseph Church, her home parish and her joint canonization with Tekakwitha, Utica is a natural stop for pilgrims coming from either direction. Syracuse holds her convent, St. Anthony Motherhouse, the St. Marianne Museum and her remains enshrined.
Utica could easily grow this pilgrim attraction suitably to sustain a significant portion of the local economy. During the recent Sts. Damian and Cosmas festival, there was not a single vacancy among local hotels or motels and restaurants were packed.
Sunday October 14, between the 7:00 and 10:30 Mass at St. Joseph’s St. Patrick Church, a contingent from Hawaii on their way to Rome, Italy will roll into town from Syracuse. The Nuns, Lepers and others from afar will gather to honor the valiant, brilliant and brave woman from Utica who led a team of sister/nurses to tend to the needs of outcasts before they leave for her canonization. They will be the first of many to come to pay tribute to her.
In this way, the Road to Rome could well be paved with riches for this area. It appears that one day Utica will have much more to be grateful for from our humble and hardworking Barbara Koob, now our own St. Marianne.