VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI will name seven new saints on Sunday including the first Native American, marking the start of a "Year of Faith" aimed at countering the rising tide of secularism in the West.
Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1680) -- informally known as "Lily of the Mohawks" -- lived in an area that is now on the border between the United States and Canada and is worshipped by believers in native religions as well as Catholics.
She will be canonised in St. Peter's Basilica at a lavish ceremony that follows her beatification in 1980 by late pope John Paul II. At least 1,500 Canadian pilgrims -- many of them American Indians -- are expected to attend.
The other new saints include a French missionary to Madagascar, a Philippine seminarian martyred at the age of 17, a German migrant to the United States who took care of lepers and a Spanish nun who campaigned for women's rights.
Vatican watchers said the choice to name these particular saints now was linked to the Roman Catholic Church's efforts to highlight the need for a "new evangelisation" as church pews in Europe and the United States empty out.
The canonisations come amid a synod of 262 bishops from around the world.
Tekakwitha, who had an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk father, was converted by Jesuit missionaries as a child. After surviving smallpox and being orphaned, she earned a following for her deep spiritualism before dying at just 24.
Another well-known figure from North America being canonised will be German-born Franciscan nun Maria Anna Cope (1838-1918).
She is known as "Mother Marianne of Molokai" because she looked after lepers on the island of Molokai in the Hawaii archipelago.
A French Jesuit, Jacques Berthieu, who was executed in 1896 in Madagascar by rebels from the Menalamba movement is also on the list.
The missionary had refused to renounce his faith and is being considered the first saint of Madagascar, where he lived for 21 years.
France's Socialist government, which has tense ties with the Church, will be sending Interior Minister Manuel Valls to the ceremony.
Another "martyr" who will be canonised on Sunday is the Philippines' Pedro Calungsod, a young seminarian who was killed on the island of Guam when he visited with a Jesuit priest to baptise a young girl.
The young man could have run away from the killing but chose to stay.
A German lay woman Maria Schaeffer, who was from the pope's German home state of Bavaria, is also being rewarded.
Schaeffer, who died in 1925, was badly burnt after falling into boiling water and spent the rest of her life bedridden.
She is credited with spreading the word of God among local villages.
An Italian priest, Giovanni Battista Piamarta, who in the late 19th century devoted his life to helping young people during the industrial revolution and founded a religious congregation, is also being canonised.
The seventh new saint, Spanish nun Maria del Carmen, also founded a congregation and worked to better the lot of poor women in the 19th century, defending their social rights and helping their children's education.
The new canonisations will bring to 44 the number of saints named by the pope since the start of his pontificate in 2005.
Catholic saints have to have two miracles to their names which have to be certified by the Vatican in a years-long procedure.
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