St. Thérèse did this, he said, by becoming a spiritual sister to several missionaries, whom she accompanied through her prayers, letters, and sacrifices from within the monastery walls.
“Without being visible, she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward,” the pope said.
“Missionaries, in fact — of whom Thérèse is patroness — are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation,” he added. “No, a missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God’s love where they are.”
Pope Francis spoke about St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of missions, during his general audience June 7, 2023. Relics of St. Therese and her parents, Sts. Louis and Zelie Guerin Martin, were present on the platform beside the pope for the audience. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis recounted two episodes from St. Thérèse’s life that help to explain the source of her zeal and missionary strength.
(Story continues below)
The first happened during Christmas 1886, when Thérèse was almost 14 years old.
St. Thérèse was pampered as the youngest child of the family, he explained. But her father was tired after midnight Mass for Christmas and did not feel like being present when his daughter opened her gifts, so he said he was glad it was the last year she would receive gifts.
“Thérèse, who was very sensitive and easily moved to tears, was hurt, and went up to her room and cried,” the pope said.
“But she quickly suppressed her tears, went downstairs and, full of joy, she was the one who cheered her father,” he said. “What had happened? On that night, when Jesus had made himself weak out of love, her soul became strong: In just a few moments, she had come out of the prison of her selfishness and self-pity; she began to feel that ‘charity entered her heart’ — so she said — ‘with the need to forget herself’ (cf. Manuscript A, 133-134).”
“From then on, she directed her zeal toward others, that they might find God.”
The second event happened after St. Thérèse became a Carmelite. Pope Francis said the nun became aware of a hardened criminal, Enrico Pranzini, who was sentenced to death by guillotine for having murdered three people.
Thérèse had a special zeal for saving sinners, and so “she took him into her heart and did all she could: She prayed in every way for his conversion, so that he, whom, with brotherly compassion she called ‘poor wretched Pranzini,’ might demonstrate a small sign of repentance and make room for God’s mercy,” Francis said.
The day after his execution, she read in the newspaper that before laying his head on the chopping block, Pranzini had, “‘all of a sudden, seized by a sudden inspiration, turned around, grabbed a crucifix that the priest handed to him and kissed three times the sacred wounds’ of Jesus,” he continued.
“Then his soul,” St. Thérèse wrote, “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 99 righteous who have no need of repentance!”
Pope Francis said: “With so many means, methods, and structures available, which sometimes distract from what is essential, the Church needs hearts like Thérèse’s, hearts that draw people to love and bring people closer to God.”
“Let us today ask this saint, whose relics we have here,” he added, “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.”
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.