Black Elk Takes Initial Steps Towards Sainthood

Black Elk took initial steps towards sainthood at an Oct. 21 Mass at Holy Rosary Church in Pine Ridge, according to a story in the National Catholic Reporter.

A story published by the Catholic News Agency said Black Elk’s cause for sainthood took another step forward Tuesday when ” the U.S. bishops unanimously approved his canonical consultation.” It continued, “the next step in Black Elk’s cause will be for a tribunal to investigate and document examples of heroic virtue in his life.”

Last year, members of the Nicholas Black Elk family presented a petition with over 1,600 signatures to Bishop Robert Gruss of Rapid City, opening Black Elk’s cause for canonization.

Black Elk was a Lakota medicine man who converted to Catholicism. He is perhaps best known because of the 1932 book: Black Elk Speaks. The book was based on John Neihardt’s interviews with Black Elk. Neihardt wasn’t Indian and the book has been criticized for not accurately reflecting Lakota beliefs, according to a Wikipedia entry.

The National Catholic Reporter story, paraphrasing Bishop Gruss, said that Black Elk led others to Christ for 50 years and blended his Lakota culture into his Christian life.

The road to canonization involves three major steps: First is the declaration of a person’s heroic virtues, after which the church declares the person “venerable.” Second is beatification, after which he or she is called “blessed.” Third is canonization, or the declaration of sainthood.

In general, two miracles must be accepted by the church as having occurred through the intercession of the prospective saint; one must occur before beatification, and the other after beatification.

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