Saturday, 21 June 2008

A visit from Saint Thérèse

St Thérèse of the Child Jesus: patron of missionaries, Doctor of the Church, a woman of profound spirituality whose popularity has grown around the world. She died in 1897, at the age of 24, and achieved no fame in her lifetime. It is her autobiography, 'The Story of a Soul', that brought her renown. Millions have read it and seek to follow the 'Little Way' which she wrote of and practised in her life.

After her death she achieved astonishing fame very quickly. This impressive Basilica was built to accommodate pilgrims coming to visit her shrine at Lisieux. It must surely be one of the most magnificent churches built in Europe in the 20th century.

St Thérèse wrote that she would spend her heaven doing good on earth, and she promised to 'let fall a shower of roses' on the earth. Her promise is simply that, through her prayers from heaven, many people would experience God's grace in their lives. She has been true to her word.

Her relics have visited many countries in the world, and at each place there has been renewal in people's lives and in the local Church. The above picture shows the relics in the Philippines. It is fitting that her relics travel, for she had a great desire to be a missionary, but ill health prevented her from travelling.

In 2001 the relics were taken to Ireland, arousing a great deal of interest and bringing many people closer to the Lord. Next year they will be visiting England, and will make a three week tour of the country beginning in Portsmouth and ending at Westminster Cathedral. The relics will be coming to Lancaster Cathedral on the afternoon of Monday 28th September 2009, and will leave on the morning of Wednesday 30th, the anniversary of her death. It is sure to be a time of great prayer and spiritual benefit.

Last November St Thérèse's relics went to the Vatican, where Pope Benedict prayed before them. Christians have always venerated the relics of the saints, by which we recall their holiness and seek their intercession. As holy men and women, the saints made their bodies dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, and even after death they invite us to seek a deeper holiness in our own lives.

There will be an important period of preparation before the visit, with national and diocesan events allowing us to learn more about Thérèse's life and spirituality and to understand more about the veneration of relics in the Church. The visit itself will be accompanied by constant prayer, opportunities for confession, Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, spiritual talks and vigils. In effect, the Cathedral will become her shrine for the period of the visit. The Cathedral has a stone statue of St Thérèse, which may in time form the centrepiece of a permanent memorial of her visit. The Cathedral's website now has a section devoted to St Thérèse and to the visit to Lancaster: click here to view it.