Married saints’ struggles inspire Sydney couple

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Robert and Carmel Assaf in their Belfield home. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Update: St Therese shows true grit as relics arrive

Newlyweds Robert and Carmel Assaf have a special connection to married saints Louis and Zélie Martin whose prayerful presence is expected to draw thousands to venerate their major relics which will make two trips to Sydney from February.

Pride of place in their Belfield home goes to first-class relics of the French couple who in 2015 became the first married couple to be canonised. The relics are housed in small gold reliquaries in the couple’s prayer space who say they are a daily reminder that Christian marriage is a path to holiness.

Married last year, the couple who met at the annual iWitness Catholic youth conference in 2016, received the relics of the world’s first canonised couple as a gift from a tour guide when they visited Rome for the deaconate ordination of their friend Jonathan Vala last year.

Despite “having them at home”, the couple intend to visit St Michael’s parish or St Mary’s Cathedral to publicly venerate the major relics of their role models along with the major relics of their daughter St Therese’s.

Relics of Sts Louis and Zelie Martin kept in the Assaf’s home. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2019

Mrs Assaf, a primary school teacher, whose second name is Teresa named after St Therese, has long had a devotion to her patron. She is attracted to the “complementarity” of her parents’ different personalities.

“I’m inspired by the suffering Zélie went through in regards to her health, the struggles of raising their children including their grief over the deaths of four of their children,” she said.“They also showed great devotion, attending Mass every day and praying as a family.”

Mr Assaf, policy and communications advisor at Catholic Schools NSW, appreciates their intercession and the physical reminders that the primary goal of Christian marriage is salvation “not just for ourselves but also God-willing, any children”.

“Seeing that lived out in Louis and Zélie is very inspiring.”

Growing up as a Maronite Catholic meant it was natural for him to have deep respect for holy objects and to display some at home, he said.

“The beautiful thing about the Catholic faith is it acknowledges that we are physical beings who don’t just have an ethereal relationship with God, but it also includes the physical and corporeal.

“The Eucharist is obviously the summit of all that, but we need physical reminders of God’s holiness and saints’ relics are a great example.”

See the relics tour itinerary for Sydney here.

Download the relics tour itinerary for the whole country here.

Are first-class relics ‘weird and creepy’?

Watch US Bishop Robert Barron’s reflections on tradition of preserving and displaying the remains of saints.

Related articles:

Mass to welcome Martin family relics
French relics visit a time of grace
Steven Buhagiar: Take up this pilgrimage challenge while Martin family relics are here