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Saints and secrets from Byliner

December 28, 2011 | 12:16 pm

A new original offering from Byliner explores what it takes to become a saint by examining the case of Kateri Tekakwitha and Pope Benedict
Sometimes, a writer sets out to tell a story and gets overtaken by the facts. That's what happened to Bill Donahue, who wrote Byliner's newest offering, "The Secret World of Saints: Inside the Catholic Church and the Mysterious Process of Anointing the Holy Dead." Like all of Byliner's original pieces, it's an e-book of a certain length: too long for a standard magazine article, but not long enough to be a book.

Published in time for the Christmas downloading season, "The Secret World of Saints" looks at the canonization process, which can take centuries. It involves investigations, scientific analysis and a requisite number of church-confirmed miracles.

Donohue, a practicing Catholic, spends a significant chunk of his 30-some pages looking closely at the story of Kateri Tekakwitha. A Mohawk who converted to Catholicism and died in 1680, Tekakwitha was beatified in 1980; as Donohue wrote his piece, she was one miracle away from becoming the first Native American to achieve sainthood.

Donohue tells the story of that possible miracle: A boy afflicted with necrotizing fasciitis (a rare flesh-eating bacteria) was ostensibly healed by prayers to Kateri Tekakwitha. His investigation will be interesting to those curious about what it takes to become a saint. But to those who care only about the end of the story, it was announced last week: Pope Benedict XVI decided that yes, the boy's recovery was a miracle.

If all moves forward as expected, Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha will become Saint Kateri Tekakwitha; a date for her canonization will be set after a formal ceremony with the pope and his cardinals.

What does that mean for the story behind her almost-sainthood? In order not to be left behind, Donahue wrote a forward that included the saint-to-be's news.

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-- Carolyn Kellogg

Left photo: A Kateri Tekakwitha shrine in Fonda, N.Y. Credit: Jim McKnight / Associated Press

Right photo: Pope Benedict at the Vatican in September. Credit: Andrew Medichini / Associated Press

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