Pope Benedict XVI advanced the sainthood causes of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai, formally recognized the martyrdom of 64 victims of the Spanish Civil War, and advanced the causes of 18 other men and women.

During a meeting Dec. 19 with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the pope signed the decrees recognizing the miracles needed for the canonizations of Blesseds Kateri and Marianne.

Before a date is set for the canonization ceremonies, there must be an "ordinary public consistory," a formal ceremony opened and closed with prayer, during which cardinals present in Rome express their support for the pope's decision to create new saints.

Blessed Kateri, known as the Lily of the Mohawks, was born to a Christian Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father in 1656 in upstate New York along the Hudson River. At age four she nearly died of smallpox, and was left with a scarred face and severely impaired eyesight.

According to legend, she was raised by relatives who began to plan her marriage. But after meeting with Catholic priests, Kateri decided to be baptized and pursue religious life. When she was baptized by a Jesuit missionary on Easter Sunday 1676 at age 20, her relatives were not pleased, and she fled the next year to Canada,

When she worked in the fields, Kateri would carry a cross with her as a source for contemplation. She died at age 24, and her last words were reported to be, "Jesus, I love you." According to eyewitnesses, including two Jesuits and many Indians, the scars on her face suddenly disappeared after her death.

In June 1980, she was declared beatified by Pope John Paul II after it was determined that during World War II, she appeared to Polish prisoners, and through her intersession they were released.

Documentation for the final miracle needed for her canonization was sent to the Vatican in July 2009. It involved the recovery of a young boy in Seattle whose face had been disfigured by flesh-eating bacteria and who almost died from the disease. But he recovered completely, and the Vatican confirmed the work of a tribunal who determined there was no medical explanation for it.

Sylvia Mendivil Salazar, coordinator of the Native American Concerns Ministry for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, noted that it would be more accurate to call Blessed Kateri the first Native American saint born in what is now the U.S.

“St. Juan Diego is the first,” she pointed out. “People forget that he was indigenous to North America, which Mexico is part of.”

Nonetheless, Mendivil Salazar said, the announcement of Blessed Kateri’s canonization to sainthood is a joyous occasion. “With no doubt many Indigenous peoples of the Americas will travel to Rome for her canonization ceremony,” she said, adding that the 73rd annual National Tekakwitha Conference --- scheduled July 18-22, 2012 in Albany, N.Y. --- would likewise have an extra reason to celebrate.

"The Indian people in the United States and Canada have longed for the canonization of Blessed Kateri from the moment of her beatification," Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia told CNS Dec. 7. A member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe, he is the only Native American Catholic archbishop in the United States.

"We are all very proud of her because she embodies in herself what Pope John Paul II called inculturation,” said Archbishop Chaput. “The saints are the truly inculturated members of a particular ethnic group because they personally embody both the Gospel and the culture from which they come.”

Blessed Kateri has always been held up "as a very holy person by members of the Native community and they have longed and longed for this moment to come," Msgr. Paul A. Lenz told CNS Dec. 19. He is vice postulator for her cause and former executive director of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Blessed Marianne Cope, who worked as a teacher and hospital administrator in New York, spent the last 30 years of her life ministering on the Hawaiian island of Molokai to those with leprosy. She died on the island in 1918 at age 80 and was beatified in St. Peter's Basilica in 2005.

Pope Benedict also recognized miracles attributed to the intercession of five other people, who now can be declared saints. They are:

--- Blessed Giovanni Battista Piamarta, an Italian priest who founded the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth for men and the Humble Servants of the Lord for women. He died in 1913.

--- Blessed Jacques Berthieu, a French Jesuit priest who was martyred in Madagascar in 1896.

--- Blessed Carmen Salles y Barangueras, the Spanish founder of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. She worked with disadvantaged girls and prostitutes and saw that early education was essential for helping young women. She died in 1911.

--- Blessed Peter Calungsod, a lay Catholic from Cebu, Philippines, who accompanied Jesuit missionaries to Guam as a catechist and was martyred there in 1672 while he was in his late teens.

--- Blessed Anna Schaffer, a lay German woman who wanted to be a missionary, but couldn't do so after a succession of physical accidents and disease. She accepted her infirmity as a way of sanctification. Her grave has been a pilgrimage site since her death in 1925.

Pope Benedict also signed decrees that pave the way for numerous beatifications:

--- He recognized the martyrdom of 64 priests, religious and a layman, Jose Gorostazu Labayen, who were martyred between 1936 and 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

--- He recognized the martyrdom of Father Nicolaus Rusca, a Swiss priest who was tortured and killed after being condemned by a Protestant court in 1618.

--- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Father Louis Brisson, the French founder of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales.

--- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Italian Father Luigi Novarese, an official at the Vatican Secretariat of State and founder of the Silent Workers of the Cross Association.

--- He formally recognized the miracle needed for the beatification of Mother Maria Mole, the French founder of the Sisters of Charity of St. Louis.

--- He formally recognized the miracles needed for the beatifications of two nuns, one from Argentina and one from Italy.

The pope approved seven other decrees recognizing that the men and women lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way and that they are venerable. Recognition of a miracle attributed to each candidate's intercession is needed for that person's beatification.


Mike Nelson contributed to this story.