Fresh from a visit to South Africa last year in conjunction with the 2010 World Cup, and a tour of England and Wales in 2009, the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux arrived at Ben Gurion Airport Monday for a two-month stay in the Holy Land. A senior delegation of Roman Catholic officials from Israel and the West Bank led by Apostolic Nuncio Antonio Franco and Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal were on the tarmac to greet the canonized Carmelite nun’s remains and escort her bejeweled reliquary to Franco’s residence in Jerusalem.
Relics of St. Therese arrive in Israel Photo courtesy: Latin Patriarchate
There the relics were going on display Wednesday, March15, for one day at the Latin Patriarchate in the Old City’s Christian Quarter before being transported to Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation. The reliquary will be on display for veneration until May 31, 2011 at various Christian communities in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip, becoming in effect “a bridge of peace,” Auxiliary Bishop William Shomali of Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarchate told Travelujah.com, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land.
“On the church level, it’s very important,” the monsignor said of the Holy Land tour of the remains of the saint. “Part of our faith is that saints have intercession – mediation between us and God. This is done by praying to them, honoring them but first and foremost imitating them,” he said of the saints. “We will speak about [Thérèse of Lisieux’s] life, how she loved the Lord and practiced spirituality.”
“Her intercession is very strong, and will help us in praying for peace,” Shomali added, noting the cooperation with the Interior Ministry’s Christian Department, who helped facilitate the itinerary. “They understood this is about spirituality and peace, and not politics,” he said. The relics will be flown to Spain at the end of May.
Director of the Christian Department at the Interior Ministry Cesare Marjieh called the event “nearly unprecedented,” and compared its importance to that of a pontifical visit.
“This is very important to the Vatican, and the relics will be in all the major Christian communities here,” he explained. “We are happy to be able to support them and let them respect the relics.”
As a young girl growing up in France’s Basse-Normandie region, Thérèse Martin (1873-1897), was passionately in love with Jesus and became a Discalced Carmelite nun at age 15. She died of tuberculosis at age 24 in a monastery in her hometown of Lisieux.
A cult quickly grew up around the nun, called “St. Thérèse, the Little Flower,” and her memoir, Story of a Soul, became one of biggest religious bestsellers of the 20th century.
According to some biographies of Edith Piaf, in 1922 the French chanteuse – at the time an unknown seven-year-old girl – was cured from blindness after making a pilgrimage to the grave of Thérèse, who at the time had not yet been formally canonized. In 1944 Pope Pius XII named her co-patroness of France alongside St. Joan of Arc.
Today the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux, consecrated in 1954, is the second largest pilgrimage site in France, after Lourdes, attracting millions of worshippers annually. When not on tour, St. Thérèse’s relics lie in the basilica’s crypt.
Canonized in 1925, in 1997 Pope John Paul II declared St. Thérèse a Doctor of the Church, a rare honorary title bestowed upon those whose writings greatly contributed to Christianity. Only 33 members of the Catholic Church to date have received the honor, and just three of whom are women.
Gil Zohar is a licensed Israeli tour guide and frequent blogger for Travelujah, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org