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The little girl who pleaded
with the Pope

· The saint of the month told by Elena Buia Rutt ·

Letters, poems, autobiographical manuscripts, recreations in the form of theatre: the critical edition of the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux exceeds fifteen hundred pages. Coming into being on different occasions, they are the excellent way to approach the spiritual experience of a young woman of a "human and terrible greatness", as the American writer Flannery O'Connor, who is devoted to her, described her. Written in poor and sometimes childish language, but capable of conveying the "science" of a passionate and radical love, in the name of which Teresa was proclaimed a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1925, patroness of the missions two years later and, in 1997, Doctor of the universal Church by Pope John Paul II.
Born in Normandy in 1873, she lived a little more than twenty-four years, nine of which within the walls of the cloister of Lisieux, Teresa - who had not attended courses in theology and had not even read the whole of Sacred Scripture (a practice at that time prohibited to nuns) - revealed and continues to reveal herself as a cornerstone of Christian spirituality. Her doctrine of the "little way" indicates how all people, by their own efforts, and especially in their everyday context, can come into direct contact with the word of God, present in the person of Jesus: God understood as a source of forgiveness and mercy to whom one completely surrenders oneself; a God who goes in search of those that are small and powerless.

At the age of nine years, Teresa, prostrated by the death of her mother and by the separation from her sister Pauline who has just entered the Carmel, turning her eyes towards the statue of the Madonna placed next to her bed, sees the Virgin smile at her. It was May 13, 1883, and instantly she is healed from a long period of severe mental and physical exhaustion. But when her sisters and the nuns press her with regard to the particulars of her vision, the child feels harassed, humiliated. She recounts in her autobiography “The story of a soul” : "They asked me if the Holy Virgin was carrying the baby Jesus, or if there was a lot of light, and so on. All these questions troubled me and made me suffer, I was only able to say one thing: “the Blessed Virgin seemed to me very beautiful ... and I saw her smiling at me”.

The spirituality of Teresa rejects any devotional rhetoric, living a direct, personal, passionate relationship with a divine love which bursts into life in practical everyday situations.

As in the case of the grace of Christmas Eve 1886, when the little girl - consenting to the call, clearly perceived, of Jesus - dominates her whims and sets off towards spiritual maturity. From that moment on, Teresa has clear ideas, indeed, very clear, about her future: she wants to enter as soon as possible the cloister of the convent of Lisieux. To the opposition of the bishop of Bayeux, raised because of her young age, she reacts "forcing" her father to a trip to Italy, following a group of French pilgrims, and culminating in a papal audience at the Vatican. Despite the strict protocol forbidding speaking, allowing only filing in front of Pope Leo XIII to receive his blessing, Teresa, just at the moment when her strength was leaving her turns towards her sister Celina, who encourages her: "Speak!”. So when her turn comes, to everyone's amazement, instead of kissing the hand of the Pope, Teresa asks him in tears to let her enter Carmel at fifteen. Not satisfied with the reply of Leo XIII ("Come on... Come on... You will enter if God wills it "), she is "politely" made to get up by the papal guards. Yet the facts, from this moment onwards, undergo an unexpected acceleration and the following year, on the morning of April 9, 1888, Teresa, not yet sixteen, enters the Carmel of Lisieux to remain there for the rest of her life with the name Teresa of Child Jesus.

Convent life - despite the presence of her sisters Pauline, Marie and Celine - is not easy. In her writings, Teresa notes the humiliations received, but nevertheless does not lose any opportunity to demonstrate in a tangible way her love to Jesus. She secretly provides little services to the sisters, she carries out tasks others avoid, she comes with smiling face before those she loathes, she accepts unjust accusations. On the night between Thursday and Good Friday of 1896, consumed by the austere life in seclusion and by the impetus of this love that led her to offer herself as a victim of the Holocaustto the merciful love of the good God, she has her first haemoptysis. From then on she begins to experience besides the assaults of tuberculosis, the darkness of the absence of faith.

Yet, even in this "night of nothingness", Teresa’s intelligence of love manages to transform the drama in which she seems trapped with no way out, into an offering to the Lord of her sufferings, for non-believers themselves. In her final days of life, during a terrible agony, she utters the famous phrase, which the writer Georges Bernanos will put on the lips of the dying priest, the protagonist.of The Diary of a Country Priest: "Everything is grace".

At her death in 1897, Teresa is unknown, but when she is canonized, twenty-eight years later, the fame of her sanctity has already spread rapidly throughout the world.

Elena Buia Rutt was born in 1971 and lives in Rome. Having graduated in Literature and then Philosophy she worked in the cultural programmes of Radio 3 and currently works as a television writer at Rai Educational. She has written Verso casa: viaggio nella narrativa di Pier Vittorio Tondelli( Fernandel 2000) and Flannery O'Connor: : il mistero e la scrittura (Àncora 2010). In 2008 she translated for Àncora - together with her husband, Andrew Rutt - the poems of Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury (La dodicesima notte), and in 2011, published for Rizzoli, part of the unpublished texts of Flannery O'Connor (Il volto incompiuto). In January 2013, for the magazine «Testo a fronte» ( Marcos y Marcos ) she translated a series of poems by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American Mary Oliver Ti stringo la mano mentre dormi (Fuorilinea 2012). her first collection of her own poems .




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 26, 2020