WASHINGTON (May 8, 2000) -- A Native American greeting will be part of opening events for Encuentro 2000: Many Faces in God's House, the U.S. bishops' jubilee year event, July 6-9, at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
The ceremony is one of several moments highlighting Native Americans during the event. Encuentro 2000 also will include a key address by Native American educator Georgiana Sanchez and a screening of Smoke Signals, a movie about two men who leave their Idaho reservation for a journey on which they find themselves.
Located on land that belonged to the Tongva Nation and near land that belonged to the Chumash Nation, the Convention Center for four days will be home to U.S. Catholics of many ethnic and racial backgrounds. The event is hosted by the Hispanic Catholic community and will demonstrate the diversity of the Church at the start of the Third Millennium.
Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup, New Mexico, a descendant of Maine's Abnaki Tribe and a member of the Bishops' Subcommittee for Encuentro 2000, noted the small but important presence of Native Americans in the Catholic Church in the United States.
"Native Americans form 0.5 percent of U.S. Catholics," he said. "It is a small but significant group. In our country's earliest days, many different tribes found Jesus through missionaries to the New World. There are a number of Catholics among tribes in the Dioceses of Gallup, New Mexico; Helena and Great Falls, Montana; Rapid City, South Dakota: and Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona."
In addition, a large number of native Americans live in the Los Angeles area. Native American Catholics also live throughout California, upstate New York, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
Bishop Pelotte noted the pride felt in Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a woman of the Mohawk tribe who learned about the faith and spread it in what today is known as Auriesville, part of Upstate New York. He also noted that right now the Church is preparing for the October canonization of Mother Katharine Drexel, the Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to educate African Americans and Native Americans.
"This is a time when Native Americans take special pride in their Catholic heritage," he said.
Bishop Pelotte recalled the words of Pope John Paul II when he visited Phoenix 13 years ago.
"The Pope highlighted the Native Americans' experiences through their contact with the forces of nature and pointed out how these experiences enhanced their prayer life and appreciation of silence and fasting," Bishop Pelotte said.
"He commended the history of patience and courage in the face of pain and disappointment," he added.
"Today they seek reconciliation with those who oppressed them and seek solidarity with others in the Church as they struggle for justice in the United States," Bishop Pelotte said.
For the opening ceremony, John Moreno Jr., of the Chumash Nation, will welcome participants on behalf of the Tongva and Chumash peoples. Such a welcome is part of Native American tradition and is used when a group arrives in a land which is not their own.
In other welcomes, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza, President of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, will welcome participants in the name of the U.S. Bishops and Cardinal Roger Mahony will welcome them on behalf of the Church community of Los Angeles.
Shortly afterwards, participants will hear three key speakers, including Ms. Sanchez, who teaches American Indian Studies at California State University, Long Beach, California.
Other Native American speakers will address breakout sessions. Among them will be Atonement Father Paul Ojibway, of the Ojibwa nation, whose homeland was in the Great Lakes region. Father Ojibwa is Director of the Washington Office of the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute.
Another speaker is Sister Kateri Mitchell, of the Sisters of St. Ann, and a member of the Turtle Clan of the Mohawk nation from Canada/Upstate New York. Sister Mitchell is the Executive Director of the Tekakwitha Conference National Center in Great Falls, Montana.
An Ethnic Village created at Encuentro 2000 will include a set organized by Kateri Circles, Native American small Christian communities, and a prayer space honoring Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha and sponsored by the Tekakwitha Conference Center. The space is one of 23 small chapels planned for Encuentro 2000.
The movie Smoke Signals will be shown Friday as part of a film festival sponsored by the Catholic Communication Campaign and the City of the Angels Film Festival. Smoke Signals begins when the ashes of a deadbeat dad in Phoenix lure two young Native American men off their Idaho reservation. Leaping between past and present, writer Sherman Alexie and director Chris Eyre spin a modern tale of pain and anger and love and forgiveness, shown from a distinctly Native American perspective.
Sponsors of Encuentro 2000 include the Tekakwitha Conference National Center.
Further information on Encuentro 2000 can be found on the Web at http://www.encuentro2000.org.