"After all these years, Blessed Kateri has made it," exulted Rev. Michael Farano.
Father Farano has good reason to be excited: As the contact person for the Albany Diocese's trip to attend Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's Oct. 21 canonization in Rome, Italy, he will be there to see the Mohawk maiden become the first Native American saint.
"It has been a long journey [from] the beginning of the canonization process to this day," Bishop Howard J. Hubbard wrote in a letter to parishes. "We thank our good and gracious God for the gift of this new saint, taken from among the Native American peoples."
The Diocese announced last week that it has selected New Hampshire-based Canterbury Tours to arrange the official diocesan pilgrimage, which will run Oct. 16-23. Bishop Hubbard will lead the group.
Also to be canonized Oct. 21 is Blessed Marianne Cope of Molokai, a teacher and hospital administrator who was raised in the Syracuse Diocese. She spent the last 30 years of her life ministering to lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai; she died in 1918. Five others will also become saints during the ceremony.
"We anticipate a huge crowd in Rome, and we're going to try not to turn anyone away" who wishes to go on the pilgrimage, said Father Farano, who is diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia as well as pastor of St. Pius X parish in Loudonville.
Canterbury Tours is also offering a bonus for parishes: For every 15 pilgrims signed up from a parish, the parish will receive one free trip. Parishes can get personalized brochures and materials to publicize the pilgrimage.
Father Farano did emphasize that "this isn't a tourist trip; it's a pilgrimage," so if the number of pilgrims gets so unwieldy that the Diocese can't guarantee a good and faith-filled experience for everyone, there is potential that some pilgrims could be turned away.
As a pilgrimage, the diocesan trip will emphasize Masses and visits to sites of religious significance, including the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel and the catacombs (including a Mass celebrated where the early Christians gathered to break bread).
One full day will be spent in Assisi, with stops at the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, the saint's birthplace and St. Mary of the Angels Basilica, which contains the chapel that St. Francis built.
Other sites on the itinerary include the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, Castel Gandolfo and the North American College, where American seminarians study.
The canonization Mass, the highlight of the pilgrimage, is expected to last several hours. Father Farano noted that it's very unusual to have two "upstaters" become saints at once, and equally unusual to have two new saints come from dioceses next door to one another.
Blessed Kateri was born in the area that is now Auriesville and was raised in nearby Fonda, where a national shrine to her is now located. Father Farano said he grew up going to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville with his family every August, as did many Catholics he knew.
Those trips "are some of my fondest memories," he said; so "I'm kind of excited about being there" in Rome for Blessed Kateri's canonization.
Dag Syverson of Canterbury Tours had a similar reaction: A native of downstate New York, he said he's been "going to Auriesville and Fonda my whole life" and is equally enthused to see Blessed Kateri - whose statue he keeps at his home - be made a saint.
"We're going over there to celebrate the canonization of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who once walked on the lands of the Albany Diocese," Father Farano declared.
Bishop Hubbard called the canonization "a great source of joy for the entire universal Church and in particular for the Diocese of Albany."
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