THEIR hands pressed to the reliquary glass-casing and eyes shut in silent prayer, thousands of Brisbane Catholics took a few moments to pray with the relics of St Therese of Lisieux and her parents Sts Zelie and Louis Martin as they pilgrimaged around the archdiocese last week.
It was the first time Sts Zelie’s and Louis’ relics had visited the Sunshine State and the first time in 18 years that St Therese’s had been here; the pilgrimage aligned with the recent success of Australia’s prayer campaign for rain.
The relics’ first Brisbane stop was in Coorparoo to the Mt Carmel parish in the care of the Carmelites.
St Therese was a Carmelite religious sister in life.
Coorparoo relics organising committee chair John Clarke said the visit was a great opportunity to showcase the contemplation and hospitality the Carmelites were known for.
Mr Clarke saw about 300 people visit the relics at Coorparoo.
“I think there were some people who absolutely loved St Therese, and really relate to the ordinariness her story exemplifies,” he said.
“I think the ability to remind ourselves it’s the ordinariness that she represents that we can all aspire to – doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.”
Mr Clarke said having her parents there too showed it was the influence of the parents in the ordinary that allowed someone like St Therese “to be the person she was”.
After Coorparoo, the relics journeyed to Springfield parish for the day.
Springfield parish priest Fr Mauro Conte said it was a “moment of renewal”.
“We saw a lot of people from different parishes, people we’ve never seen before at churches or the parish, just popping in.
“I’m sure the visit of the relics has touched many lives and lifted many hearts.”
It held a unique significance for the two-year-old Our Lady of the Southern Cross Church, which consecrated its altar with a relic of St Therese.
“We are very thankful that we got to be a part of this,” he said.
The relics went to Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley for the following night.
The young women’s group at Annerley, Flores Teresianes (flowers of Therese), cherished the moment with the relics of their namesake, the Little Flower.
Flores member Bernadette Tomlin said a group of the Flores women held roses and lined the aisle as the relics arrived.
“We were able to put the roses around the relics and spent time praying with her (St Therese),” she said.
“It was lovely so many of (the Flores women) were able to be present.”
During her own personal prayer with the relics, she reached out to put her hands on the reliquary and said she had “goose bumps”.
“This feeling came over me of great grace and, yeah, she definitely works very powerfully for the ladies over the years.
“It’s not an easy thing to start up a group of women in their 20s and 30s… and St Therese has definitely been a big part of helping that happen smoothly and successfully.”
Ms Tomlin said she did not get a chance to see the relics last time they were in Brisbane, and so she said she had been counting down the days like a “little kid before Christmas”.
“It was such a special grace to see them,” she said.
Annerley-Ekibin parish sacramental co-ordinator Teresa Martin – with no relation to St Therese Martin, named instead after St Teresa of Avila – saw the relics with her daughter and twin grandsons.
“The opportunity to venerate them was something many never experience in their lifetime, and to have two opportunities to see St Therese’s relics in my lifetime is amazing and humbling,” she said.
Having the Flores ladies there was also “inspiring” to her.
“The passing-on of the Catholic faith is in good hands with these young women – and that is very encouraging to those of us who are in an older age bracket,” she said.
She said she had no personal expectation about how she would feel in the presence of the relics.
But, as she caught her first glimpse of the reliquary of St Therese, she said she involuntarily caught her breath and “my hand went to my heart”.
“I had an actual physical feeling about St Therese’s presence as her relics passed by,” she said.
“I don’t recall having that feeling when I venerated her relics when they last visited Australia, so it was very unexpected.”
Last weekend saw hundreds of Catholics visit the saintly family’s reliquaries exhibited in front of the Little Flower’s round window atop the northern transept door at St Stephen’s Cathedral.
In his homily at a Mass last Saturday in the presence of the relics, Brisbane Auxiliary Bishop Ken Howell said St Therese was born of a love story between two saints.
“What a marvellous gift they are to the Church that they have been canonised as a couple, which reflects that deep and abiding truth that the couple indeed become one in the love of married life,” he said.
He said some might be inclined to think Sts Louis and Zelie were canonised because they parented a Doctor of the Church, or because five of their daughters entered religious life.
“This is indeed significant, but for me, there is something noteworthy in the fact that four of their children died in infancy,” Bishop Howell said.
“To lose a child is an incredible pain, but to lose four tells us of broken hearts and intense pain.
“This leads me to something from faith that tells me that their holiness has been firmly founded on the mystery of the Cross… for to be able to endure such sadness and the questioning that accompanies it, speaks of things that only faith will be able to give to bear this loss.
“Even more profound is the fact that their marital commitment meant that they must undergo this journey together – as ‘one’, while still coping with their own individual suffering.
“This is the mystery of faith…”
Bishop Howell said the presence of the remains of the saints reminded how life was to be lived if we intended on doing God’s will and wanted to know God more each day.
The relics continued their pilgrimage around Brisbane archdiocese, but were scheduled to leave on Saturday, February 15.