■ Bishop Hollis says visit of the saint’s relics to his diocese was his ‘proudest moment as bishop’
BY ANNA ARCO
THOUSANDS OF Catholic faithful have flocked to venerate the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux which have been on tour in England and Wales since last week.
The relics, which were brought to Britain via the Channel Tunnel, have drawn over 20,000 pilgrims since they started touring just over a week ago.
At their first stop at the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Portsmouth, more than 4,500 people came to venerate the relics. Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth said that the visit had been one of his proudest moments as bishop of the diocese. He said: “Over the years of the history of our diocese and our cathedral in Portsmouth we have witnessed many great events and occasions. But for sheer intensity of prayer and real devotion, I doubt whether any have matched what we have experienced during the hours of the visit to the cathedral of St Thérèse.” The relics were then taken to Plymouth where they were met by Bishop Christopher Budd at the doors of his cathedral. Pilgrims travelled in coaches from Cornwall and Devon and the cathedral was packed to capacity, with 3,000 people passing through over the course of 20 hours. The relics drew their largest crowd so far at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham, with 11,000 people in two days. Bishop William Kenney, the administrator of the archdiocese, said: “The visit of the relics has been a time of grace for the diocese and in particular for the many thousands of pilgrims who came to venerate them in person.” At Coleshill, Birmingham, where the relics stopped at the parish of St Teresa of the Child of Jesus, they were met by several hundred people and Fr Marcus Stock, the new general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, celebrated a welcome liturgy. Auxiliary Bishop David McGough of Birmingham preached about St Thérèse’s humility and her resolve that everything in her life “would become an expression of Christ’s presence in our world”.
There was also a celebration for the priests of the diocese held at Coleshill before St Thérèse was taken to Cardiff. The relics were then due to be taken to Salford, Manchester and Newcastle before stopping in York Minster, the Anglican cathedral.
The Dean of York, Keith Jones, said: “I am thrilled that the relics of St Thérèse, the Little Flower, are coming to York minster ... she is a gift of God to us all and this is a chance for Christians of differ ent traditions to us to pray for unity and renew our faith and our love.” The relics will then head south via Middlesbrough, Leeds, Nottingham and Walsingham before stopping in Oxford, Buckinghamshire and Aylesford. They arrive in London in mid-October, stopping first at the Carmelite church in Kensington and then Westminster Cathedral.
While reports in the secular press were initially positive a backlash soon followed. Matthew Parris of the Times said that the presence of the relics in England and Wales should be a “call to arms” for atheists. He criticised mainstream news coverage of the event for being uncritical. In the Sunday Times Minette Marrin attacked the Government for allowing the relics to stop at the Wormwood Scrubs prison in west London.
She wrote: “There comes a time when even a peaceable agnostic feels roused to indignation. For me it was last week, at the news that the Home Office has seen fit to let the bones of the Little Flower into Wormwood Scrubs prison ... In so doing, it opens wide the gates of reason to let into any public place any and every fetish or juju that any religious group claims is part of its spiritual life.
“What the starry progress of the relics of the Little Flower has done for me is to remind me that we have in this country rather too much religious tolerance.” Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, was also critical of the decision to bring the relics to Wormwood Scrubs.
But Fr Gerry McFlynn, the chaplain at the prison, said in a letter to the Guardian: “In venerating the relics of St Thérèse, Catholics and other Christians are not engaging in some ghoulish ritual, but rather seeking to draw inspiration from the life and spirituality of a remarkable woman.”