St. Thérèse's Relics Arrive in Iraq

Sign of Hope for Peace for Christians Who Fear War

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, NOV. 21, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The relics of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus were received here, a sign of hope for peace for a country facing war.



The remains of the French saint (1873-1897), world patroness of missions, were officially received Wednesday with a Mass which attracted several hundred Iraqi Catholics.

The relics arrived at the urgent request of Archbishop Jean Seligman, head of Baghdad's Latin-rite Catholics, two days before Iraq's Christians hold a Day of Prayer for Peace on Friday.

Many families, including children, arrived just before the Mass began, to pray in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph. They prayed before the remains of this Doctor of the Church, who was canonized in 1925.

The relics, which should remain in Iraq until year-end, were brought from Lebanon after a two-and-a-half-month visit there, Vatican Radio reported Tuesday.

"May the visit of the sacred relics that arrive in Iraq, urgent and crucial, banish the ghost of war, from Iraq and from the whole region," said the patriarch of Antioch for Maronites, Cardinal Nasrallah Pierre Sfeir.

One of the most moving moments of the presence of St. Thérèse's relics in Lebanon occurred Nov. 15, when they were taken to the 5,000-inmate Roomier prison in north Beirut. Cardinal Sfeir himself inaugurated a re-education center and outpatient clinic in the prison that day.

Father Raymond Lamella, rector emeritus of the Basilica of Lisieux, said that the Church "always respected this habit which consists of gathering to pray in the presence of the remains of those whom we knew and liked."

"We are not pure spirits and we need signs," he added. "Precisely the relics of the saints are to be regarded as the very humble and very fragile signs of what were their bodies. In the presence of the relics we can thus evoke more easily their human condition: It is with their body that the saints acted, thought, requested, worked, suffered and experienced death."

"However, these so thin and almost ridiculous signs -- these are what God sometimes wants to make use of to express his presence and to make his power and glory known," the priest concluded.

According to the Lisieux Web page, the relics in 2003 will go to Mauritius, the island of Reunion, the Seychelles, Scotland and Spain.