Saints for the Family
Louis and Zélie Martin Inspire the Faithful in St. Peter’s Square
Pope Francis’ Oct. 18 canonization of the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux — Louis and Zélie Martin — illustrated the central role of the family in the life of the Church.
The Holy Father also canonized two others in a rite of canonization that attracted and inspired thousands of pilgrims.
“The men and women canonized today unfailingly served their brothers and sisters with outstanding humility and charity, in imitation of the divine Master,” the Pope said in his homily.
“The radiant witness of these new saints inspires us to persevere in joyful service to our brothers and sisters, trusting in the help of God and the maternal protection of Mary,” he told pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Mass.
Pope Francis praised the Martins for “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.”
He also pointed to Italian St. Vincent Grossi’s great zeal in attending to the needs of his flock, particularly the youth, as well as St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception’s extraordinary humility in serving the less fortunate, especially the children of the poor and sick.
Pope Francis closed his homily by praising the example of the new saints and praying that, from heaven, “may they now watch over us and sustain us by their powerful intercession.”
Ahead of the liturgy, pilgrims from Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East and Asia and Oceania filed into St. Peter’s Square. Some of them began arriving just after dawn.
American newlyweds Peter and Cassie joined the teeming throngs. “We’re here for our honeymoon,” Peter explained. “What’s better than starting with the canonization of the first married couple [together], right?!” Cassie added.
Pope St. John Paul II declared the Martins’ Carmelite daughter Thérèse a doctor of the Church on Oct. 19, 1997. According to reports from the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Radio, the Oct. 18 liturgy marked the first time married parents of children — in their case, of nine children — have been raised to the honor of the altar in the same rite of canonization.
“We’re just thrilled to be part of history,” Peter said.
“We need some figures like this to help us carry our cross,” Alicja from Łódz, Poland, said. She explained that she and her husband, Andrzej, lost a daughter in childbirth last summer. According to the official hagiography of the newly sainted Martins, although they experienced “the joy of giving birth to nine children, four died in childhood.” However, “neither grief nor trials weakened their deep faith, sustained by the daily attendance at Mass and filial devotion to the Virgin Mary.”
“They help us. They are an example to us to keep going, to love God,” Andrzej explained.
“After I had two miscarriages, I didn’t hope to have a child,” Chieko from Osaka, Japan, reported. But “we prayed to them; and now I have a child,” she said, holding her 3-month-old baby girl. Her husband, Aki, explained that his wife’s devotion to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face led them to address their prayers to her parents. “A family led a family,” he said, indicating that the familial bond between the Little Flower and her parents translates to the familial bond of ecclesial communion in the company of the saints.
Inspiration for Others, Too
Devotion to the Martins extends beyond married couples and young families, however. At the Pontificio Collegio Internazionale Maria Mater Ecclesiae along the Via Pietro, Charles explained that he began to discern a vocation to the priesthood during a pilgrimage to the Basilica of St. Thérèse in Lisieux, France. “I was impressed by the exemplary saintliness of Thérèse; and I wanted to follow her ‘little way,’” he explained.
However, his parents reacted strongly against his decision to “throw away” a lucrative medical career in order to pursue life as a celibate priest. So “I began to pray to my heavenly friend’s parents to open my parents’ minds to my path,” he said. Now, “they are praying for me, and they will come to my ordination next year.” He was staying in Rome for the canonization.
At the special liturgy, Sister Maria del Redentor de la Cruz, a member of the same religious community as the now-St. Mary, read from the 53rd chapter of Isaiah in Spanish, “The Lord has been pleased to crush his servant with suffering. If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life, and through him what the Lord wishes will be done.”
A seminarian named Bruno from the south of France recounted inside St. Peter’s Square ahead of Sunday’s Mass how his mother’s long battle with cancer led him closer to God and inspired his decision to enter the seminary. “Through this cross, I clung to God,” he recalled. His own devotion to the Carmelite doctor of the Church led him to pray to Louis and Marie Zélie Martin for his mother.
A marketing professional from Paris said he and his wife were drawn to the canonization in Rome by the witness of the Martins’ family life.
“They are real people,” he said; but “they lived their faith with joy.” Through this witness, “I feel like I can do my work, but in a way that pleases God,” he added.
Faith Amid Secularism
In the Gospel reading from the 10th chapter of Mark, proclaimed in both Latin and Greek, Jesus declared, “The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptized, you shall be baptized; but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.”
The Pope said in his homily that Jesus’ words in the Gospel show that “those who serve others and lack real prestige exercise genuine authority in the Church.”
In coming “not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” Jesus shows us that “he enjoys dominion because he is a servant; glory because he is capable of abasement; kingship because he is fully prepared to lay down his life,” the Holy Father added.
“By his passion and death, he takes the lowest place, attains the heights of grandeur in service and bestows this upon his Church.”
Hedy from Germany related that she has been bearing a great cross, practicing her Christian faith amidst rampant secularism. “I’m not Catholic; maybe someday,” she said; but “these beautiful things help me and encourage me,” she added, reflecting on the canonization Mass.
She indicated that she is one of only a few people she knows who “practice any kind of religion.”
“I like that a couple in love are saints.” She laughed, “Maybe I can get that.”
Following the Pope’s homily, Prayers of the Faithful were offered. Benjamin, a Jewish University of Haifa student touring in Europe, said, “I was impressed by the languages and the prayers. They pray for everything,” he said.
“I’m not Catholic, but I can tell people were very passionate here.” Added Benjamin, “I just got in on the last few minutes of this ceremony, but it was still a great honor to be here while I am in Rome.”
Upon the conclusion of the rite of canonization, Pope Francis recited the Angelus in Latin and imparted his apostolic blessing: “The Word became flesh and lived among us.”
Thomas from New York recalled how “we prayed the Angelus in my family at home when I was growing up.” Now, he is studying in Rome as a lay student, and he continues to recite the prayer daily.
“It just awes me how the Martins probably said that same prayer in their house; and, now, they’re all basically saints,” he commented. “I guess it just goes to show how a family that prays together stays together, even in heaven.”
After the Mass, Pope Francis circled the square several times in his popemobile, greeting pilgrims and kissing babies. An older man from Toronto said, “My wife had such a devotion to the Martins, especially the Little Flower. She is gone now, but today I feel close to her.”
John Paul Shimek filed this report
from Vatican City.
CNA contributed to this story.
Martha Calderon/CNA photo
- Nov. 1-14, 2015