Page 4

Pilgrimage to Rome

For Thérèse, 1887 was a year of global development—physical, intellectual, artistic and especially spiritual. With the stubbornness of a woman in love, she fought to enter the Carmel at the age of fifteen. She had to overcome the opposition of her father (easily persuaded), her uncle Guérin, the bursar of the Carmel, and Monseigneur Hugonin, the Bishop of Bayeux. Told that because of her young age she would need a special dispensation from the pope, she decided to approach Pope Leo XIII himself.

Meanwhile, her father and sister, Céline, took her on a pilgrimage to Rome to try to get her mind off this crazy idea. Thérèse loved it. It was the one time when being little worked to her advantage! Because she was young and small she could run everywhere, touch relics and tombs without being yelled at. This month of November 1887, when she discovered Switzerland, Florence, Venice, Assisi, and above all Rome, marked a turning point in her  life. She looked and listened eagerly, now realizing that priests were not angels, but "weak and fragile human beings," greatly in need of prayer. She understood better just what it meant to be a Carmelite. But the aim of her pilgrimage never wavered: to ask the Pope's permission to enter the Carmel at fifteen.

Finally they went for an audience with the Pope. According to Céline, the audience, which took place on Sunday November 20, 1887, was a disaster. They had been forbidden to speak to him but that didn't stop Thérèse. As soon as she got near him, she begged that he let her enter the Carmelite convent. Leo XIII answered Thérèse's entreaties evasively. The young girl was extremely distraught and had to be carried out—in tears—by the papal guards! Now she only had Jesus to turn to.

Back in Lisieux, the Vicar General, who had seen her courage, was impressed and soon Thérèse was admitted to the Carmelite convent that her sisters Pauline and Marie had already joined. But she still had to be patient a while longer. On Monday, 9 April 1988, an emotional and tearful but determined Thérèse Martin said good-bye to Les Buissonnets and her family. She was going to live "for ever and ever" in the desert with Jesus and twenty-four enclosed companions; she was fifteen years and three months old.