Saint of the battlefields to visit fire-ravaged towns
As the Relics of St Therese of Lisieux tour a country reeling from bushfires, the Prioress of Canberra’s Carmelite Monastery said it was timely to remember the French saint had a heart for people doing it tough, particularly those in the midst of warfare.
“She’s such an amazing saint and has done so much for so many people,” Sr Mary Agnes told the Catholic Voice.
The Monastery in Red Hill will host the Relics of the French Carmelite saint and her parents, Sts Louis and Zelie Martin, on 28 and 29 March.
Sr Mary Agnes, who has been Prioress for 23 years, hopes the visit will bring “much comfort” to people at this difficult time.
The 91-year-old Sister also expressed a desire to see the forgotten stories of St Therese helping those in need brought to light once more. In particular, the once well-known reports of French soldiers during the First World War who claimed they had seen the saint walking through the battlefields, even though she had died in 1897, long before the War broke out in 1914.
“It was particularly during the First World War when that terrible fighting on the Western Front was raging that she would appear on the battlefields,” Sr Mary Agnes said.
The 40 reported apparitions were recorded in a series of books titled Shower of Roses and published in 1920.
The books detail how the saint appeared to soldiers amid the blood and mire of the trenches, providing encouragement, comfort and protection. They nicknamed her their “little sister of the trenches”.
“Actually it was the soldiers who petitioned the Pope to beatify her, that’s where it all came from,” Sr Mary Agnes said. “These things are forgotten, I don’t know why. It’s a wonderful story and it needs to be brought to light.”
When St Therese’s Relics first visited the monastery in 2002, enormous crowds flocked to venerate “in great reverence, joy, and awe”, Sr Mary Agnes said, with many returning to the sacrament of Confession.
Kevin Croker, the coordinator of the 2020 Relics tour through the Canberra and Goulburn Archdiocese, recalled a large number of people wanting to attend Reconciliation during the last visit.
There was a “mystical” sense, he said, that the saint was drawing people back to the sacrament.
“It was a joyous celebration with standing room only to venerate the relics at the Cathedral,” Mr Croker said.
“And school children were lining the streets to welcome the relics.”
During the 2002 visit, Mr Croker ensured the Relics made an unscheduled stop at the Mount St Joseph Nursing Home in Young where an elderly Carmelite Sister was living.
Sr John of the Cross, who was in her 90s at the time, was able to silently venerate the relics, he said before she passed away peacefully that night.
This year the Relics are scheduled to visit 10 parishes in the Archdiocese from March 25 to April 1.
“Given the devastating fires and subsequent loss of life across our country, the visit of the Relics to the region of Bega and Cooma parishes will be especially relevant,” Mr Croker said.
Parish Priest at St Patrick’s in Bega, Fr Luke Verrell, said the “presence” of St Therese could potentially help people in the area to move on following the devastation of the fires.
While Bega was not hit directly hit, the town has suffered due to fires in neighboring towns, particularly Bemboka.
“Bega was affected most in terms of taking people who had been evacuated, from Eden, Merimbula, Bermagui, Bemboka and other places,” Fr Luke said. “We had 3,000 in the showground at one stage.”
The town also endured 24 hours of complete darkness, he said, when the fire front first struck on New Year’s Eve.
“The fires were just continually burning,” Fr Luke said. “It was hard for the firefighters, so black they didn’t know
where the fire front
“Everyone has been affected by the horror of the weather and the doom of the impending fires. Everyone has gone through the unease of not knowing what’s going to happen.”
While his parishioners are still coming to terms with the tragedy, Fr Luke said the visit of the Relics of St Therese and her parents to the parish on March 30 could help people find some healing.
“There’s a great love for her which goes to show there’s a true relationship there,” Fr Luke said. “People feel her presence and closeness.”
“The saints are our friends and when you look at someone who has lived a good holy life, yes it does encourage us to be like them but also it’s a source of grace. Her good life opens the doors of heaven and makes heaven available for all of us. It’s a great source of joy.”
Find the Relics of St Therese of Lisieux tour Itinerary HERE