Catholics from across Sydney gathered to welcome the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux and her parents Sts Zélie and Louis Martin to St Mary’s Cathedral on 1 February.
At the expected arrival time of 4.30pm two WN Bull hearses pulled up to the cathedral steps which were lined with the faithful holding pink and white-coloured roses.
They were a tribute to the ‘Little Flower’ who promised to send a shower of roses in the form of God’s graces after her death in 1897.
Others waited patiently inside and as the two reliquaries, one containing remains of St Thérèse, and a smaller one bearing remains of her parents, were borne in procession down the central aisle, a shower of rose petals fell from the choir loft.
Despite a heatwave searing across the city people had travelled for up to nearly two hours to greet the saint whose ‘little way’ of spiritual childhood has inspired millions, and to ask for the intercession of her and her parents for themselves, their loved ones, the Church and the entire country.
They queued to touch, kiss or kneel briefly beside the reliquaries with expressions of deep devotion, a few smiles and whispered words, and for some, quiet tears.
St Thérèse’s teaching about the ordinary path to holiness, expressed in her autobiography Story of a Soul is “not rocket science” said Bishop Terry Brady who officially welcomed the relics and presided at Mass.
“In her mind, in the end, it was all about love,” he said.
“Her ability to love was a wonderful gift that her parents nurtured in her.
“All of us in these special days while the relics are here, let’s make use of the opportunity to go back to, or discover, some of the wonderful writings of St Thérèse and her parents.”
Bishop Brady also reminded the congregation that St Thérèse is a patron of the Catholic Church in Australia and that seeking her aid in deepening one’s spiritual life would be a good preparation for this year’s Plenary Council.
Jana El Thoumi and Jane Xie, from the young adults’ group at St Patrick’s Church, Kogarah, said the relic’s visit to Sydney “really exciting”.
“It’s a very special occasion and an opportunity that doesn’t happen often,” said Ms El Thoumi.
“St Thérèse is very special. She’s a big saint, and also a little one.
“She’s very relatable and beloved by our youth group. She is a saint of humility, which is such a beautiful virtue but not appreciated today when everyone is pushing confidence.”
Some cathedral visitors, impressed by the events, wanted to know what was going on with such obvious deep devotion. Others had already spent time praying with the Martin family relics since their first stop on the national tour last week in Varroville where St Thérèse’s Discalced Carmelite community are based.
They included Angelo from western Sydney who is inspired by the universal application of Doctor of the Church St Thérèse’s ‘method’ of sanctification.
“We don’t have to do great things, only our ordinary daily things with great love,” he said.
Maria Henness of Strathfield had venerated Thérèse’s relics while visiting France last November. She has told all her friends and people she meets to pray with the trio while they are here.
“They have come such a long way to be with us and to intercede for us and for everything that is happening in the world today, for example, the passing of the abortion bill here last year,” she said.
For 11-year-old Ignatius Jee, venerating the Martin family relics brought happy memories of praying by the reliquary of Sts Zélie and Louis with his own parents and siblings at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018. Pope Francis canonised the pair, the first married couple to be raised to the altars, in 2015.
A few people told The Catholic Weekly they were intending to stay late or return overnight during the all-night vigil or early in the morning to pray with the much-loved saints minus the crowds.
After 24 hours at the cathedral, the relics begin their pilgrimage around the Sydney archdiocese with the first stop at St Michael’s Church, Belfield, followed by St Aloysius Gonzaga Church, Cronulla.