Steven Buhagiar: Take up this pilgrimage challenge while Martin family relics are here

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A family pilgrimage to pray with the relics of St Therese and her parents will create special memories PHOTO: Pexels/Amber Morse

Update: St Therese shows true grit as relics arrive in Oz

St Thérèse of Lisieux’s reliquary and those of her parents’ are coming to Sydney

When was the last time you went on a family pilgrimage? If it hasn’t been for a while or if the idea of pilgrimage hasn’t really registered on the family’s collective “bucket list”, the next two months present a unique opportunity to do so locally and is one which doesn’t come around too often.

The major relics of Sts Louis, Zélie and Thérèse Martin are in town and it would be a great shame if we didn’t make the effort to visit, pray with, venerate, and honour these special saints!

Why is an experience of pilgrimage important for Christian family life?

Why is the idea and experience of pilgrimage so important, or might we dare say essential, to the formation of the Christian family today? In the first instance it is a chance to be just that, a family.

For much of the week, the individual members of our family “do their own thing” what with all our work, hobby, and sporting commitments. These commitments often take up a considerable amount of what could have been much needed ‘family time’.

St Therese of Lisieux in her convent. PHOTO: ©Sanctuaire de Lisieux

A pilgrimage provides a dedicated period of time and intentionality where the family can come together with a common goal and which is bounded by a common sense of faith and prayer.

Going on pilgrimage isn’t always the easiest choice to make, but it is certainly a very important thing that the family should try and do together at least once a year.

Here, parents will need to be especially creative so as to ensure that the pilgrimage experience is memorable, challenging and, yes, even fun for their children as well as for themselves.

Fun, joy, and the sense of adventure, contributes to the more evident prayer-oriented elements of a pilgrimage and helps imprint a positive spiritual experience on the hearts of children which can be built upon in the years to come. In light of this particular opportunity, parents will do well to acquaint themselves and their children with the saints Louis, Zélie, and Thérèse. They should come to know the saints of the Martin family personally and remember that they are in fact very much alive and desirous of relationship as are all the saints in heaven.

We often forget that we are members of the same family and, through our baptism, are all members of the Communion of Saints!

Specifically, we will come to know that Louis and Zélie were a down-to-earth married couple who certainly experienced the wide gamut of family life including its joy, hardship, and sickness, as well as having to find the right balance between their respective businesses and the rearing of their young children.

The life of St Thérèse, framed beautifully by her ‘Little Way’, will allow for an intimate insight into her constant and very relatable struggle to pray and to become a saint (as we are all called to be) amidst the day-to-day responsibilities of everyday life.

A composite photo of Saints Louis and Zélie Martin, parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux. PHOTO: Sanctuaire de Lisieux

So what could a family pilgrimage experience look like practically? Following is an example remembering that families should feel free to create their own experience which is unique to their own circumstances, needs and sensibilities.

The 2020 Relics Tour family pilgrimage challenge

1. Research the lives of saints Louis, Zélie, and Thérèse and get to know them.
2. Read about the concept of Pilgrimage in the Christian tradition.
3. Check out the itinerary of the Relics Pilgrimage through Sydney and thoughtfully consider if any church or parish has particular relevance to your family, your family history, or is connected by way of its name or patron saint.
4. As a family, identify some prayer intentions which can be taken on pilgrimage and left in prayer at the feet of the saints visited and venerated.
5. Prepare as a family by reciting a novena to saints Louis, Zélie and Thérèse.
Novenas are generally nine days in length.
6. Incorporate a ‘Pilgrim Blessing’ before and after the pilgrimage.
7. Consider walking a significant portion of the journey to visit the relics or visit during a more difficult and challenging time of the night.
8. Lunch together with a picnic or have dinner at a favourite restaurant where the family can just be together and enjoy each other’s company prior to the pilgrimage. Maybe do the same after the pilgrimage or do both.

Remember to take with you the beauty and uniqueness of your individual family. You are doing this together and, in so doing, are a witness to the world that God is living and active in the unity of your lives. This witness is an encouragement and gift to those who see you and will help to build up their faith too. Never underestimate the importance of family life; it is the heart of every healthy society!

Finally, pilgrimage always brings about certain and often unexpected fruits in the lives of those who participate in them.

It is a period of time in which we invite God to do something special in our lives. Trust that God has a plan and wants to do something special with your family. Trust, too, that saints Louis, Zélie, and Thérèse want to assist you in coming to know this unique plan more clearly, and that they will be forever more your special friends and guides on the great pilgrimage to heaven!

Steven Buhagiar is the team leader of the Sydney archdiocese’s Life, Family and Outreach Office.

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Mass to welcome Martin family relics