Sunday, 20 September 2009

The veneration of Saint Thérèse's relics

In Birmingham there is a great tradition of devotion to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the Oratory is no exception. So deep is this that there are several parishes dedicated to her, almost every Catholic church has a shrine to her and Teresa is a very common name for Catholic girls in the city. So it was be expected there would be a big response to the visit of her relics, but not as great as I imagined!

Yesterday afternoon, after the service of Midday prayer was over for the arrival of Saint Thérèse's relics, seeing the sheer numbers of people present, I thought that it would be better to go away for an hour and wait for the crowds to subside. So after having a pint with some fellow Oratory parishioners, I came back to discover that the throng had not diminished but considerably increased! So much so that there was a long queue stretching right down the street.

Nevertheless, with a little patience I got in to venerate the casket. But very little time was given with only 5 seconds allowed to kneel before it, and then we were moved on. The sick and disabled were given priority, and were allowed to sit in the cathedral: and with just all of them alone the pews were filled to capacity!

Reports from the secularist media about the visit of the relics have ranged from cynicism at best to downright hysteria and bigotry. Most of talked about the usual knee - jerk 'medieval superstition', while some have even made thinly veiled demands that the authorities stop this event! I have seen articles saying, 'religious tolerance is being taken too far!', 'vast crowds being duped and led astray', 'politicians should not kowtow to fundamentalists', etc. etc.

But these people have good reason to react badly. The Little Flower is a saint who means business: the Nemesis of secularism and atheism! Indeed when I came back today, the crowds were even bigger, with the police maintaining a benign supervision of the event. I asked them how many people had come and how did they react to it. They told me they about 5000 - 10000 could have turned up, and yet this has been all very orderly and well organised with no problems whatsoever. Yet to secularist paranoia, Christian fundamentalist terrorists are in the making in this gathering..

Indeed, to give an idea of the scale of the crowds, here is the back of the queue towards the cathedral. It took about quarter of an hour to move through it to venerate.

This event was a real sign of Catholic unity and fellowship. People came from all across Birmingham, the Black Country and beyond, with every parish being represented, and with groups coming from other parts of the diocese in Stoke on Trent, Lichfield, Worcester and Coventry. Almost every nationality and ethnic group was represented, and Catholics whether liberal or traditionalist laid aside their differences to come together in prayer and veneration before the saint. Never once before I have seen such unity in diversity, and such a powerful sense of the mystical body of Christ. How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers live in unity!

The Franciscans of the Immaculate came down for the day from Burslem, Stoke on Trent, where they confirmed to me that five of them have just set up a new friary. They have now settled in well, and so my prayers have been answered. Deo Gratias! Later on they were to join us in the Oratory this evening for vespers.

But this is only the beginning! The relics have another month to tour England and Wales, and what we see here will be nothing compared with what will happen when the relics visit London. Let us hope that the media go wild with fury, for we will then know that the Little Flower has struck England's secularist heart.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, pray for us.

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