1st Colombian Woman to Be Beatified

Laura Montoya Was "Teacher of the Indians"

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VATICAN CITY, APRIL 21, 2004 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II next Sunday will beatify Laura Montoya, the first Colombian woman to be so honored.



Known as "teacher of the Indians," she founded the Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena.

"She became an Indian with the Indians to win them all for Christ," said Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for Sainthood Causes, when a decree was published last July recognizing a miracle attributed to her intercession.

Laura Montoya y Upegui was born on May 26, 1874, in Jericho, Colombia. She studied elementary education at the Immaculate Conception School, and taught in poor areas of Antioquia and Medellin.

In 1914, she and a group of volunteers went to Antioquia's forest of Dabeiba del Uraba to teach the catechism and to help native communities. The initiative gave birth to the congregation of Missionaries of Mary Immaculate and St. Catherine of Siena or, as she called it, the "Indians' Works."

"She understood the human dignity and divine vocation of Indians," explains the biography issued by the Holy See.

"She wished to be inserted in their culture, to live like them in poverty, simplicity and humility and, in this way, to knock down the wall of racial discrimination that some civil and religious leaders of her time exercised," the biography says.

"Her missionary work upset plans and launched women as missionaries in the vanguard of evangelization in Latin America," the biography adds.

Montoya spent nine years in a wheelchair, and died in Medellin on Oct. 21, 1949, after a long agony. At her death, her congregation had 90 houses in three countries, with 467 religious.

The complete recovery in 1994 of an 86-year-old woman suffering from cancer was attributed to the intercession of Mother Laura of St. Catherine of Siena and opened the way to her beatification.