Pope Francis recently announced he will write an apostolic letter on St. Thérèse. Aleteia rounds up 10 times the Pontiff has cited her since 2013.
In 2022, Pope Francis was interviewed by a group of homeless people for a book, and they asked him who his favorite saint is. His response: St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897)!
This came as no surprise, as throughout his pontificate the Pontiff has frequently mentioned the young French saint and Doctor of the Church, who died at 24 years old. He even canonized her parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, in October 2015.
During the general audience on June 7, 2023, Pope Francis announced he will write an apostolic letter on St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus to celebrate the 150th anniversary of her birth and 50th anniversary of her beatification. Aleteia rounds up 10 times that Pope Francis expressed his devotion for this young saint!
1When St. Thérèse came to meet the Pope
During his trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January 2015, during an in-flight press conference, Pope Francis shared how he often asks St. Thérèse for her help. French journalist Caroline Pigozzi had given him a carving of the French saint during the flight.
“I have the habit, when I do not know how things are going, of asking St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus that if she takes care of some problem, anything at all, to send me a rose,” the Pontiff told journalists on board. “At times she does, but in odd ways. In the same way, I asked her to watch over this journey and to send me a rose. Instead of a rose, she came herself to greet me. Thanks to Caroline, many thanks to Thérèse and to all of you.”
2“A saint who tells us about God’s grace”
When interviewing the Pope for French magazine Paris Match in October 2015, journalist Caroline Pigozzi, asked why, as an Argentinian, Francis felt such devotion towards St. Thérèse.
“She’s one of the saints who tells us most about God’s grace. How God takes care of us, holds us by the hand and makes it easy for us to climb the mountain of life,” the Pontiff explained. “Provided we abandon ourselves entirely to Him, letting Him ‘transport’ us. In the course of her life, little Thérèse understood that it is love, the reconciling love of Jesus, that draws the members of his Church together. That’s what Thérèse de Lisieux taught me.”
3St. Thérèse: patron saint of missions
St. Thérèse is a patron saint of missions and thus the Pope has often cited her when speaking to religious or consecrated men and women. On the Day for Consecrated Life, during the Jubilee of Mercy in 2016, Pope Francis told those attending that “proximity” to people and their suffering was essential to their mission.
“Think about St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, patron saint of the missions, who with her ardent heart was close, and the letters she received from missionaries made her closer to the people. Proximity,” he said. “St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus never, ever complained about work, about the bother it was to bring that sister to the dining room every evening: from the choir to the dining room. Never! Because that poor nun was very old, almost paralyzed, she had difficulty walking, she was in pain.”
4A shining example of a holy woman
On more than one occasion Pope Francis has highlighted how St. Thérèse’s is an example of holiness for Christian women. In fact in his apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (2018) on the call to holiness, he cites this young saint, amongst others, as an example of the “genius of woman” as “seen in feminine styles of holiness.”
Similarly, he also cited her during a mass in Tbilisi, during his apostolic trip to the countries of Georgia and Azerbaijan in 2016. He emphasized that one of “the many treasures of this magnificent country” was the “importance of women.”
“As St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, whom we commemorate today, wrote: “they love God in much larger numbers than men do,” the Pontiff explained. “St. Thérèse “shows her “little way” to God, “the trust of a little child who falls asleep without fear in his Father’s arms,” because “Jesus does not demand great actions from us, but simply surrender and gratitude” (Autobiography, Manuscript B, 1). […] The young saint and Doctor of the Church, rather, was an expert in the “science of love” (ibid), and teaches us that “perfect charity consists in bearing with the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice”; she reminds also that “charity cannot remain hidden in the depths our hearts” (Autobiography, Manuscript C, 12).”
5St. Thérèse’s definition of consolation
During Pope Francis’ catechesis on discernment at the general audience in November 2022, he explained how St. Thérèse defined spiritual consolation after a particular experience she had and how that can help us in our life.
“Spiritual consolation cannot be “piloted” — you cannot say “now may consolation come” […] It is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It allows a familiarity with God that seems to cancel distances,” Pope Francis explained. “When Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus visited the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem in Rome at the age of 14, she tried to touch the nail venerated there, one of the nails with which Jesus was crucified. Thérèse understood her daring as a transport of love and confidence. Later, she wrote, “I truly was too audacious. But the Lord sees the depths of our hearts. He knows my intention was pure […] I acted with him as a child who believes everything is permissible and who considers the Father’s treasures their own” (Autobiographical Manuscript, 183).”
“Children are spontaneous, and consolation leads you to be spontaneous with a tenderness, with a very deep peace,” he continued. “A 14-year-old girl gives us a splendid description of spiritual consolation. We can feel a sense of tenderness towards God that makes us audacious in our desire to participate in his own life, to do what is pleasing to him because we feel familiar with him, we feel that his house is our house, we feel welcome, loved, restored. With this consolation, we do not give up in the face of difficulty — in fact, with the same boldness, Thérèse would ask the Pope for permission to enter Carmel even though she was too young, and her wish was granted. What does this mean? It means that consolation makes us daring.”
6St. Thérèse came from a holy family
“The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus,” said Pope Francis at the canonization mass of St. Thérèse’s parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, in October 2015. The Pontiff canonized them during the Synod of Bishops on the Family, to highlight the importance of transmitting the faith to one’s children.
In reality, St. Thérèse’s parents both thought they were meant to pursue religious life. When those paths did not work out they ended up meeting each other and getting married and vowing to raise their children in the faith. In fact, they had nine children, five girls who survived beyond infancy and who all entered religious life.
7Being humble like the Child Jesus
St. Thérèse of Lisieux is also known as Thérèse of the Child Jesus, which is the name she took when she became a Carmelite nun. In 2015, for the Pope’s last general audience of the year, he spoke about the need to be humble like the Child Jesus, citing St. Thérèse as an example.
“Devotion to the Child Jesus is widespread. Many saints cultivated this devotion in their daily prayers, and wished to model their lives after that of the Child Jesus. I think in particular of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who as a Carmelite nun took the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face,” the Pontiff explained. “She is also a Doctor of the Church who knew how to live and witness to the “spiritual childhood” which is assimilated through meditation, as the Virgin Mary taught, on the humility of God who became small for us. This is a great mystery. God is humble! We, who are proud and full of vanity, believe we are something big: we are nothing! He, the Great One, is humble and becomes a child. This is a true mystery. God is humble. This is beautiful!”
8St. Thérèse teaches us to care for one another
In Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, Laudato Sì, on the care for creation and integral ecology he also cites St. Thérèse’s constant attention towards the people around her as an example for how to approach our environment.
“Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship,” the Pope said. “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation, and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”
9Falling asleep while praying can happen
In an interview with an Italian TV channel in 2017, Pope Francis admitted that he sometimes falls asleep while praying. However, he felt it was not a problem, as his favorite saint sometimes did so too. “When I go to pray sometimes I fall asleep. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus also did this. She said that the Lord, God, the Father likes it when one falls asleep,” the Pontiff explained.
10A quote to encourage a struggling Church
In 2014 Pope Francis sent a video message to Christians in Iraq, who had to flee their city of Mosul and were at a refugee camp in Erbil after the advancing of Islamic extremists. He used a quote from St. Thérèse to encourage these struggling Christians.
“Today I would like to draw near to you who are enduring this suffering, to be close to you…. And I think of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, who said that she and the Church felt like a reed: when the wind, the storm comes, the reed bends but it does not break! At this moment you are the reed, you bend in pain, but you have the strength to carry forward your faith, which is a testimony for us. Today you are the reeds of God! The reeds that are laid low by this fierce wind, but will rise again!” the Pontiff said.