St. Theresa’s Church celebrates: FeastFeast of St. Therese of Lisieux | Sunday Observer

St. Theresa’s Church celebrates: FeastFeast of St. Therese of Lisieux

One of the prominent icons of Colombo 5 is the magnificent church dedicated to St. Therese, which has been a spiritual beacon to the Catholic community. Built by the faithful Dominican priests in the 1960s it remains a testament to the hard work, faith and sacrifice of its pioneers such as Fr. Frendo. As you enter this serene church the first image to capture your mind is the mural that rises above the altar. Painted by Richard Don Gabriel it shows a manifestation of St. Therese of Lisieux, surrounded by cherubs in a mood of victory. As the Dominican fathers left our island the church was bestowed to the Redemptorist priests. The church celebrates their annual feast from October 1 with a series of Mass throughout the week.

The making of a young saint

St. Therese is one of the most venerated saints in Europe. The shrine dedicated to her in Lisieux, France is only second in terms of pilgrimage to that of the church at Lourdes. Therese Martin was born in January 1873, her parents were middleclass citizens. Her father Louis was a jeweller and also made watches. It is remarkable to note that all five of his children- Marie, Pauline, Leonie, Celine and Therese became nuns. Louis adored his youngest daughter Therese calling her petite reine (meaning little queen). Even as a child she went for Mass at 5.30am. When Therese was four years her mother died of a breast tumor, leaving the little girl in a state of shock.

Thus Pauline had to play the role of mother to little Therese. She attended school which was run by the Benedictine nuns. When Therese was barely nine years, Pauline had decided to become a Carmelite nun- which was another shock to the young girl who would now lose her caring sister. Shortly thereafter, the little girl began to suffer from nervous tremors, which caused great alarm to her family. On May 13, young Therese claimed that she was gazing at the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and in that silent encounter she was healed.

During Christmas Eve of 1886 Therese was at her home where she later confessed to have been fully converted to her faith and calling. She began to study and meditate on the Imitation of Christ. Sometime later she made her father Louis, aware of her desire to become a Carmelite nun. Louis Martin and his daughters Therese and Celine went on a month long pilgrimage visiting places including Assisi, the cradle of the Franciscan friars. This journey helped Therese discover her inner self and understand the needs of people. Therese became a Carmelite Postulant on April 9, 1888 aged 15. Being a Carmelite in that era was a challenging task- the nuns were allowed one meal a day for seven months of the year, with strong emphasis on personal and collective prayer. It is recorded that when Therese entered the priory she said, “Sweet peace has entered my soul”.

Here she was reunited with her own sisters Pauline and Marie. In 1889 Therese wore the habit (Carmelite dress) – made of rough hand knit brown material, woollen stockings and rope sandals. A leather belt completed the attire. She began reading with earnest the writings of John of the Cross. It is recorded that during her life as a nun she was deeply touched by the “face” of Jesus during his crucifixion, a face which manifested suffering and pain, a face drenched with blood (from the thorns of the crown), a face which finally radiated with victory- “Turexgloriaechriste (Latin)– O Christ king of glory”. The nuns at the monastery were dismayed when the ‘little flower’- Therese was afflicted with tuberculosis. After a period of suffering, she died in September 1897 aged only 24. “Aeternam habeas requiem (Latin) - May you have eternal rest”. She was subsequently beatified and is a venerated saint in the Catholic community. Her life where she encountered loss, commitment to her divine vocation and patient suffering in illness is a reminder of the reality of life and resonates with the words of Saint Francis of Assisi who said,“Deus Meus et Omnia (Latin)- my God my all”. For the resilient Christian the eternal reward is in heaven.

Fr.Chandana Perera is the present parish priest of St.Theresa’s Church, Thimbirigasyaya. These devout Catholics along with other visitors will gather to reflect and collectively celebrate the life of St.Therese of Lisieux and can truly sing “Unitrinoque Domino, sit sempiterna Gloria (Latin)- To the one and triune God be glory unending”.

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