18 years on, there’s providence in the timing of saints’ visit
There was no shower of rose petals but hot red dust falling from the sky as St Thérèse of Lisieux arrived in Sydney.
Her 23 January flight from Singapore, the last leg of the journey here, had been delayed by a few hours while her parents had missed it altogether due to a “logistical issue”.
But joy overwhelmed any disappointment for the Discalced Carmelite nuns of Varroville as a WN Bull van pulled up to the convent chapel and they were blessed with the first view of its precious cargo and presented with two bouquets of roses.
The southwest Sydney convent is the first and likely the quietest stop on the four-month Australian pilgrimage of the three members of one of the Catholic world’s most-loved families.
A ‘feisty’ saint
“Thérèse is feisty and will come whatever the conditions,” said the prioress Sister Jocelyn Kramer OCD.
“If she makes up her mind to do something she’ll do it. Maybe 40-plus degree temperatures, a howling gale with dust storms and bushfires don’t bother her in the slightest. But maybe her parents being older would rather come when conditions are a bit more sedate and easier for travelling.
“Maybe there’s a Providence in the timing.”
Nearly half a million people came out to venerate and pray with the saint alongside her remains in the 132kg glass-topped ornate reliquary when she first came to this country in 2002.
This time the ‘Little Flower’ and patron saint of missionaries brings her mum and dad, Sts Louis and Zélie Martin, who will join their daughter in Varroville in the next few days.
Dean of St Mary’s Cathedral Fr Don Richardson said he is excited about welcoming the relics on Saturday 1 February at 4.30pm where they will be available for public veneration (apart from during Masses) around the clock until 4pm on Sunday 2 February.
“I was on the staff here when her relics came in 2002 and it was very inspiring to see the large numbers of people who came then, even at 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning,” Fr Richardson said. “It’s wonderful too, having her parents who were canonised since then in 2015 who will add another dimension.”
The pilgrimage is an initiative of Catholic Mission, partnering with Invocare funeral homes and memorial parks to bring the members of the Martin family to 17 dioceses including the Archdiocese of Sydney during February and March.
Director of Catholic Mission Father Brian Lucas said the arrival of St Thérèse is a welcome sight for Catholics in Australia. “After two years of preparation and 18 years since her last visit, Australians now have the opportunity to express devotion for St Thérèse by visiting venues around the country that are hosting her relics,” he said.
Sr Jocelyn said that not only St Thérèse and her parents, but the whole Martin family (the couple’s five surviving children all entered religious life) are examples of perseverance in optimism and faith despite “great suffering” and saw God’s will in whatever happened to them even if they didn’t understand it.
“You might say, well they’re a 19th century provincial French family, what kind of example can they be to us today? But they had enormous difficulties which are modern difficulties.
“They had serious illness in all of their children, they lost four children including their only sons, as babies and one daughter, Hélène, as a five-and-a-half year old.
“They were both working parents trying to raise their family, they suffered financial losses. We have bullying in our society and they understand bullying. Zélie died of breast cancer at the age of 45, and it only came to light six months before her death that their maid was abusing their daughter Leonie, a special needs child.
“They had strong faith, but they also suffered a lot. They also had a genuine concern for the poor, made real friends with them and went to bat for them when there were issues of justice.
“I really hope they will give heart to modern families who have lots of struggles and lots of difficulties. Here are people who understand their struggles and will support and intercede for them, who they can approach with their issues, and in their prayer ask for their help.”
Fr Maunder said the friars were also “so delighted to welcome Therese, who is an old friend” and to be introduced to her parents “up close”.
“Through their relics, things that we can touch and feel, the saints are present to us,” he said, adding that he hoped this pilgrimage would spark a renewal of faith, particularly in heavenly things, throughout the country.