06/07/2023, 14.40
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Pope: Thérèse of Lisieux shows that charity is the driving force of mission

Before he was admitted to the Gemelli Polyclinic for surgery, Francis welcomed the relics of the Carmelite patroness of missions, in St. Peter's Square. On the 150th anniversary of her birth, which falls this year, he announced his intention to write an Apostolic Letter dedicated to her. For the feast of Corpus Christi, he urged the faithful to reach out, “frequently and with devotion, to Jesus, the Bread of Life”.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – At his weekly General Audience this morning, Pope Francis said, in front of the relics of Saint Thérèse  of Lisieux, universal patroness of the missions, that “charity [. . .] is the engine of mission”.

Before his admission to the Gemelli Hospital for abdominal surgery, the pontiff addressed the crowd in St Peter's Square as part of his ongoing cycle of catechises on the passion for evangelisation, dedicating his reflections to the figure of Thérèse of Lisieux, whose 150th anniversary (2 January 1873) is celebrated this year.

He did so next to the relics of the great Carmelite nun that are currently held at Rome’s Church of Sant'Antonio abate all’Esquilino (Saint Anthony Abbot on the Esquiline) as part of a worldwide pilgrimage.

“It is good that this happens while we are reflecting on the passion for evangelisation,” the pope said. To mark this anniversary, Francis plans to dedicate an apostolic letter to the saint, “patroness of the missions” who “was never sent on mission [. . .], a Carmelite nun who lived her life according to the way of littleness and weakness” defining “herself as ‘a small grain of sand’.”

“Having poor health, she died at the age of only 24. But though her body was sickly, her heart was vibrant, missionary. She recounts in her ‘diary’ that her desire was that of being a missionary, and that she wanted to be one not just for a few years, but for the rest of her life, even until the end of the world.”

Thérèse accompanied various missions “from her monastery through her letters, through her prayer, and by offering continuous sacrifices for them. Without being visible, she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward.”

Speaking about her life, Francis focused on two episodes. On Christmas 1886, when she was still very young, God, she wrote in her diary, worked a miracle delivering her from the prison of her selfishness. Thus, she began to feel that “charity entered her heart, with the need to forget herself”.

She also began writing to a prison inmate, “Enrico Pranzini, sentenced to death for horrible crimes”, and “took him into her heart and did all she could: she prayed in every way for his conversion”; then, on the scaffold, after consistently refusing, he suddenly grabbed the crucifix that the priest presented to him and kissed the wounds of Jesus three times.

“Such is the power of intercession moved by charity; such is the engine of mission! Missionaries, in fact – of whom Thérèse  is patroness – are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation; no, a missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God's love where they are. Missionaries are those who do everything so that, through their witness, their prayer, their intercession, Jesus might pass by.”

Francis stressed again that people do not “become a Christian because they are forced by someone, but because they have been touched by love. With so many means, methods, and structures available, which sometimes distract from what is essential, the Church needs hearts like Thérèse’s, hearts that draw people to love and bring people closer to God. Let us ask this saint for the grace to overcome our selfishness and for the passion to intercede that Jesus might be known and loved.”

In his greetings to the faithful, the pontiff mentioned the upcoming feast of Corpus Christi, urging them to reach out, “frequently and with devotion, to Jesus, the Bread of Life that gives strength, light and joy. He will become the source of your choices and your actions.”

Finally, the pope invited the faithful to join “One Minute for Peace" – an initiative by the International Forum of Catholic Action (IFCA), set for tomorrow at 1 pm Rome time (GMT -2) – and pray “for an end to the wars in the world, especially for dear and tormented Ukraine”.

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