On the solemnity of Epiphany, January 8, 2023, the Holy Door of the St. Thérèse basilica was opened by the Bishop of Bayeux-Lisieux, marking the opening of a jubilee year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of the one whom Pius XI canonized as “the greatest saint of modern times.”
On January 2, 1873 Thérèse Martin was born in Alençon, Normandy. Half a century later, Pope Pius XI proclaimed as “Blessed” Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, who would be canonized in 1925, less than thirty years after her death on September 30, 1897.
It is in this context that the diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux decreed a jubilee year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of St. Thérèse and the centenary of her beatification.
The renown of Thérèse Martin has the particularity of being posthumous: in 1898, The Story of a Soul appeared, and made the Carmelite known through a compilation put together by her sister Céline, who did not hesitate to “rework” certain of the saint’s writings for various reasons.
A huge editorial success, this first-person account established a closeness to Thérèse and marked the beginning of a great popular devotion that would contrast with the Jansenist atmosphere of the time.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Carmel of Lisieux received about 50 letters a day to testify to the healings and miracles attributed to the young mystic, a figure which rose to 500 from French soldiers during the First World War who had begged for her intercession. It was they who ensured the popularity of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus.
The second part of the 20th century would see a whole critical apparatus put in place to allow direct access to the original autobiographical manuscripts from which The Story of a Soul had been composed.
During the jubilee year 2023, veneration of her relics will be offered to pilgrims. They are relics that have already traveled much. Since 1994, they have been displayed in more than 70 countries, including countries at war or marked by violence: Iraq in 2002, and Colombia in 2004, when the country was undermined by Farc guerrillas.
The relics were also brought to the Philippines, where many prisoners sentenced to death were able to pray in front of the relics just before appearing before the Sovereign Judge.
“This young woman of infinite yearning is a very modern figure. She passes fashions. She is a complete saint: she teaches, answers, and heals,” explains Antoinette Guise-Castelnuovo, expert in the science of religions.
But the influence extends well beyond the Catholic Church alone, since UNESCO has decided to include the name of the Carmelite on the list of anniversaries to be celebrated during the 2022-2023 biennium: “The 193 states of the world unanimously considered that highlighting Thérèse of Lisieux's birthday was good for humanity,” said Nicole Ameline, France's delegate to the UN, in December 2022.
It is an opportunity for Catholics to read or reread the saint’s autobiographical manuscripts, to entrust themselves to her in the storms that await us this year, and also to meditate on her “little way” towards holiness.