Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
October 8, 2001
Saint's relics draw 30,000 to church
Faithful line up for a moment with St. Thérèse
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — When Thérèse of Lisieux died in 1897 at the age of 24, only about 30 people attended her funeral.
When her remains arrived at St. Theresa Church on the evening of Sept. 29, about 3,000 people were there to welcome them.
And numbers continued to climb over the next 50 hours as Catholics from across northern Alberta flocked to the Millwoods church to venerate the saint.
Organizers estimate at least 30,000 people lined up for up to 90 minutes at the church throughout the weekend for a chance to see the ornate reliquary containing the saint's remains.
The wooden box, made in the 1920s of wood and silver, can be seen through a Plexiglas dome that protects it from the hands of thousands of believers as it travels around the globe. The reliquary, which has been touring the world since 1995, arrived at St. Theresa Church from Prince George in a black van and was greeted by an honour guard from the Knights of Columbus and six parish members.
"We come to listen to God's word, which was so essential to the life of St. Thérèse," said Archbishop Thomas Collins as he welcomed the saint's remains in the lobby of the church.
"We pray that Thérèse will intercede for us here in Canada and in Alberta and that her blessings will be showered on the people gathered here."
It's an ancient Christian tradition to venerate the remains of a person who has died, the archbishop told the crowd. "We venerate the relics because they were the temple of the Holy Spirit. (And) we pray to St. Thérèse because she is one of us. She is part of our family."
Following the blessing of the relics, which were placed in front of the altar, pilgrims joined a long line and patiently waited for their turn to pass by the saint. While some simply touched the Plexiglas, others kissed it and applied religious objects to it. Some fell to their knees and prayed for the saint's intercession. Many left roses at the foot of the reliquary.
Rebecca John, 24, and her friend Tammy Murza, 23, both of Edmonton's Good Shepherd Parish, came because they wouldn't dare miss an event that "probably won't happen again in our lifetimes."
"I felt such calmness and peace," said John after touching the reliquary. "Just knowing St. Thérèse is there is in itself awesome."
Murza has prayed to the saint for healing for many years and wanted to thank her. "I'm glad I came. I felt an incredible calmness and peace when I touched her. I think we should feel honoured her relics came here."
Tom Adamyk, his wife Mae and daughter Teresa drove in from St. Michael, to see the relics. "I felt her presence in a very spiritual way," he said. "I felt a very deep emotion."
Adamyk knew little about the saint but he bought two books at the church and was quite impressed by the saint's deep faith. "St. Theresa always knew what God wanted of her," he said. "It's important for young people to know that even though they are young, they still can get closer to God like St. Theresa."
His wife Mae was almost overcome with emotion while in the presence of the relics. "I felt so peaceful I wanted to cry. I had tears in my eyes," she said. "It was such an honour to touch the relics of such a great saint. She was so young and yet she touched so many."
Teresa, 23, also felt blessed to touch the reliquary. "I'm so blessed to be here," she said. "She is such a good role-model."
Sharlene Smith of west Edmonton came mainly out of curiosity. "My neighbour was excited over this, and I just had to see for myself what it is all about," she told the WCR. "I know the saints and all but I don't know what a relic is."
After witnessing how the people paid respect and venerated the remains, Smith confessed that there is still much she needs to learn about her Catholic faith.
Ann Walsh and her children Michael, 15, and Kate, 13, came because they wouldn't pass the "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse.
"She is very special to us," Walsh said. "She is Kate's Confirmation saint."
Ann said the whole family was touched by the experience. "You can feel the aura of holiness in the church," she said.
Michael couldn't find enough words of admiration to describe the saint. "She devoted her short life to God and there she is - a saint. I think she is a cool saint."
St. Thérèse (born Thérèse Martin) was only 24 when she died of tuberculosis in 1897, just nine years after entering the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, France.
Her reputation for holiness quickly spread after the posthumous publication of a collection of her three manuscripts under the title, Story of a Soul. Right after her death, there were reports of extraordinary events associated with her, including cures and conversions. Pilgrims were soon flocking to Lisieux.
Beatified in 1923, she was canonized two years later, on May 17, 1925. In 1997, Pope John Paul proclaimed her a doctor of the Church in recognition of the exceptional influence of her spirituality throughout the world.
Zeny Lang, 73, was one of the hospitality persons for the event in her parish of St. Theresa.
"I feel that my problems were lifted up from me when I saw those people, who came to see the relics and they looked heavily burdened," Lang said.
Flor Wheatcroft had been reading stories in the WCR about the Little Flower. On the last day of the relics visit, she heard a homily about the saint on Vision TV.
"I was touched by her life story. She died so young and lived a simple life, which is difficult to do in our world today," said Wheatcroft, a 69-year-old retired nurse.
When she came to venerate the relics, Wheatcroft prayed for peace in the world and that Canada be protected by God.
Shirley Gervais, her husband George and their children Joshua, 6, and Charlotte, 9, drove from Sylvan Lake to be in the presence of the relics. She and the children went through the lineup twice and each time she touched and kissed the reliquary, applying her rosary and a little portrait of the saint against the Plexiglas dome.
"It was a very spiritual experience; it gave such a sense of peace," she said. "I asked her to pray for us."
The Gervais said they came out of admiration for the saint and because they want their children to understand "how relics are part of our faith."
Charlotte was impressed. "I felt it was so interesting," she said. "I wanted my mom to be blessed by mother Thérèse."
How did Joshua feel? "I just want to go home," he said. "I want to go home now."
The reliquary was on display day and night from the evening of Sept. 29 to the evening of Oct. 1, when the saint's remains were moved to the Carmelite Monastery near Spruce Grove for a night of private veneration. From there the relics were driven to Calgary.
The Canadian visit of the relics began Sept. 16 in Vancouver and will visit 41 of the country's 63 dioceses before ending Dec. 14 in Halifax.
People continued to line up to venerate the remains of the modern day saint until the final Mass at St. Theresa Church.
"This is an extraordinary moment," Archbishop Thomas Collins said in his concluding homily. It is a reminder that the extraordinary is always at the service of the ordinary.
"Our experience of God is simple, it is childlike but not childish," he said.
The saints day by day worship God, love God and love their neighbours, noted Collins. "It is difficult but not complicated."
Father Martin Carroll, pastor of the southside parish since July, was impressed with how well the event went.
"I'm impressed with the reverence of the people," he said Sept. 30. "They have shown tremendous patience in such long lineups. When I asked them to move a little faster they have been very cooperative."
Carroll's hope is that the visit of the relics will lead Catholics to do a "little bit of reflection" on the life of St. Thérèse, his parish's patron saint. "My hope is that from this we'll all be inspired by her example, that our faith and commitment will grow because of this."
Rick Strauss, chair of the 12-member committee that organized the visit of the relics, called the event a great success and said it proves that a single parish "can handle a major archdiocesan event like this." Some 500 parishioners volunteered in a variety of tasks during the event, including security, parking and sales.
"They did an excellent job," said Strauss, who believes the experience will strengthen the parish and the Millwoods community. "We're glad that we could accommodate everybody's desire by being open 24 hours for these two days," Strauss said.
Even through the quiet hours of the night people came continuously, he said. "The whole atmosphere of love and community has been demonstrated not just by the people from this parish but from all the people that have come here."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.