Pope Francis: Passion for Mission and Thérèse of Lisieux

Rome (Agenzia Fides) – Missionaries “are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation”. Missionary is “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 “. This is how Pope Francis recalled the beating heart of missionary dynamism that can move and animate the witness of all the baptized. He did so on the occasion of today’s General Audience, Wednesday, July 7, continuing the cycle of catechesis dedicated to the passion for evangelization and apostolic zeal, proposing once again the figure and spirituality of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a Carmelite nun and Patroness of Catholic missions together with Saint Francis Xavier. During the Audience, held in Saint Peter’s Square, the Pontiff had the reliquary containing the relics of the Carmelite Saint born 150 years ago next to him. “It is good”, said the Pope, referring to the display of the relics “that this happen while we are reflecting on the passion for evangelization, on apostolic zeal”. The Pope also announced his intention to dedicate an Apostolic Letter to the Saint who is very dear to him, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of her birth.

Theresa of Lisieux – recalled the Pope, re-proposing some traits of the figure and earthly life of the saint – she is patroness of the missions, but she was never sent “on mission”. Her life was marked “by littleness and weakness”. Having poor health, she could not fulfill her desire to live her vocation away from her home in Lisieux, and she died at the age of 24. But though her body was sickly – the Pontiff remarked – “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”.
Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face was a “spiritual sister” to several missionaries: she accompanied them from her monastery “through her letters, through her prayer, and by offering continuous sacrifices for them”. And she did this “joyfully, for the needs of the Church, so that, as she said, “roses might fall on everyone,” especially the most distant”.
During the catechesis, Pope Francis re-proposed some episodes from the saint’s life, taken from her manuscripts, to suggest the theological source of her universal missionary zeal, the love for Christ that led her to self-forgetfulness and kindled in her the desire to “console Jesus” and “make him loved by souls”. To her sister Céline she wrote that her daily resolution was: to “make Jesus loved”. And in another letter to Father Roullan she wrote: “I want to save souls and forget myself for them: I want to save them even after my death”. Her concern for the eternal salvation of souls – the Pope recalled – also emerges from the way she took to heart the fate of Enrico Pranzini, a criminal condemned to death, who at first had refused to receive the comfort of absolution for sins. Theresa – the Pope recalled – “did all she could: she prayed in every way for his conversion”, imploring that the man condemned to death might “demonstrate a small sign of repentance and make room for God’s mercy”. And when she reads that before laying his head on the block Pranzini grabbed a Crucifix that the priest handed to him and kissed three times the sacred wounds” of Jesus, Theresa remarked: “Then his soul went to receive the merciful sentence of the One who declared that in Heaven there will be more joy for a single sinner who repents than for the ninety-nine righteous who have no need of repentance!”
The apostolic passion to proclaim the Gospel – Pope Francis repeated “never works never works by proselytism or constraint, but by attraction: one does 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 Therese’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”.
Before beginning the catechesis, Pope Francis placed a single, white rose on the table in front of the reliquary containing the relics of Saint Teresa of Lisieux and of her parents.
The devotion that binds Pope Francis to the Saint of Lisieux is well known, to whom the Pontiff usually entrusts himself and asks for help.
After the General Audience – as reported in a statement by Holy See Press Office Director Matteo Bruni – Pope Francis was taken to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital where he will undergo a laparotomy and abdominal wall surgery with prosthesis. (GV) (Agenzia Fides, 7/6/2023)

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