ARTICLESTHÉRÈSE IN RUSSIA
Fr. Pierre Dumoulin, Vice-Rector of the Catholic Seminary of Russia
Excerpted and translated from the magazine Thérèse de Lisieux (no. 790, June 1999 and no. 791, July-August 1999)
The pilgrimage of the relics of Thérèse across Russia was a shower of graces .... It was the arrival of a friend, the long-awaited return of a sister. Thérèse, patroness of the missions and protectress of Catholic Missions in Russia finally arrived. This pilgrimage had been in preparation for a long time: during the totalitarian regime, Story of a Soul circulated in Russia "under cover." It was edited and re-edited during this last ten years. Then last year the original manuscripts were published in Russian. And now hundreds of copies of Bishop Guy Gaucher's Story of a Life are being distributed. To prepare for the visit of the relics, days of recollection were organized just about everywhere last year. and holy cards were distributed .... Finally here "she" is! For the faithful don't speak any more of "relics": it is Thérèse herself who is coming to visit her Church in distress. "She is going to that parish, she will leave for that city, she will pass through my village!" . . .
Thérèse began her visit at the Catholic Seminary of Russia in St. Petersburg. (From there she set out on a pilgrimage of four months across European Russia, Kazakhstan, and Siberia.) This is the only Catholic seminary for the Russian language. For Thérèse, who entered Carmel to pray for priests, this must have been quite something! She certainly was not disappointed by the welcome given her. When she arrived, the cathedral church was full. Fifty seminarians in albs formed an honor guard and escorted her right up to the main altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed all afternoon. A reposoir was set up with... oh! what a wonder for this poor country freezing in the snow... bouquets of roses! Solemn Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament followed. Everyone was very moved: "She is here!" We felt it .... Many people cried .... Late that night, there were still people praying before the reliquary, and we finally had to ask them to leave. The next day, the church was full until the all-night vigil organized by the Seminary. Everybody did their best: the seminarians had learned songs about Thérèse in Russian and accompanied them with their own instruments. Viktor played the violin, Miroslav accompanied him on the guitar, Sergei played the organ, Sylvie Buisset from Lisieux sang in French, and Helena. a parishioner, sang solos. For three hours, the church was packed, and time seemed to stand still. The veneration of the relics was the most moving moment: The procession seemed as if it would never end ....There were more than five hundred people this second evening!
A few days later, the relics arrived at Sacred Heart Church, a neo-gothic building which had been divided into four floors of offices, of which only one part on the ground floor and on the fourth floor have been returned to the Church. The ceremony was supposed to take place in the "Lenin Roorn," but it was impossible to get the reliquary through the doors. Thérèse refused to go into Lenin's Room! So for several hours hundreds of people filed by the reliquary out in the hallway. Some brought sick people: a young mother who has tuberculosis of the bone and who has difficulty getting out absolutely had to come with her husband, who himself has cancer. The deaf and the blind also came. There was much misery there, just as in Jesus' time "when he went about doing good and healing the sick" (Acts 10:38).
But this was only the beginning: the reliquary went to the Catholic parishes of St. Petersburg for a week, before going down toward Moscow, then they reached the shores of the Volga and the Black Sea, Siberia and even Vladivostock in the Far East, then on to Kazakhstan and the steppes of Central Asia .... Thérèse wanted to be a missionary, and for the love of God she shut herself up in a Carmel! She was certainly leaving it now! News of the relics was "flying like snow balls," crowds kept getting bigger, and each parish was preparing as best as it could. The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church was informed well in advance and found no difficulty, provided this was an internal matter of the Catholic Church .... So Thérèse stayed in Catholic places of worship, but who could control who came? Everybody loves Thérèse ....
In order for you to understand what a "storm" of graces the presence of the relics brought about, I would like to tell you a few "fioretti" which I experienced personally:
The confessions were especially overwhelming: Many people went to confession for the first time or came back to the sacraments after years of error. One night a man, after his confession, told me the drama of his life: his eldest daughter, who is 30, was raised under the atheistic regime. The parents did not dare send her to catechism. She was baptized, but said she did not believe. The same night, a woman spoke to me of an identical problem, and I guessed it was the wife of the first man. I just said to both: "Pray to Thérèse and tell your daughter, 'A priest is expecting you tomorrow, at the end of the vigil.' Don't say anything else. Don't force her. Offer, but don't insist." The next day, after the vigil, I heard confessions until midnight. Some people left the confessional in tears: I had never seen that. The last penitent was a young woman who entered sobbing and said: "Yesterday you said to my parents that you would be expecting me. I hesitated, but here I am." Thérèse wanted to be a "fisher of souls." She used a lot of net for this catch! The rest of what this young woman said is under the seal of confession, but when she left, she prayed for a long time at the reliquary, then she turned toward her parents and the three embraced emotionally.
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