Thérèse of Lisieux in Asia

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Thérèse of Lisieux in AsiaParis (AsiaNews) – "Woman intellectual, seeker of meaning” is the title of a new exhibition dedicated to Thérèse of Lisieux, which opened on 17 January at the headquarters of the Missions étrangères de Paris (MÉP), rue du Bac, in the French capital, with particular focus on Asia.

The initiative, which is part of the celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Carmelite nun, patron saint of missions, also displays a series of unpublished documents from the Institut de recherche France-Asie (IRFA) and the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux centred precisely on the relations between Thérèse and the MÉP.

The basis is the universal message of the saint of Lisieux. And the exhibition is part of a series of events also sponsored by a secular institution like UNESCO designed to celebrate her as an "educator and writer" who in her lifetime shared knowledge and encouraged exchange between peoples.

The first part of the exhibition focuses on Thérèse's message of love for everyone: for her family, friends, the saints, and especially the Lord Jesus, with whom she identifies completely; but also love for the men and women of her time – the murderer Pranzini, whom she called "my first son", her “brother” priests, the Carmelite Sisters, the distant world of the missions – and love for all humanity, manifested even after her death in 1897 through many healings and conversions across the world, and the extraordinary success of her diary “Story of a soul”.

The second part of the exhibition is centred on the relationship between Thérèse and MEP missionaries.

In 1896, Fr Adolphe Roulland (1870-1934), a native of the Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux, was able to get the prioress of the Carmel of Lisieux to spiritually attach a religious sister to his ministry while preparing to leave for China.

The choice fell on Thérèse and the two began corresponding regularly, for a total of 14 letters, in which the Carmelite defines herself as "the little sister of a missionary". For the first time, these letters are on display together with a "pall" (a liturgical item) Thérèse embroidered for Fr Roulland.

In her correspondence, the Carmelite also mentions Fr Théophane Vénard (1829-1861), a member of the MÉP who died a martyr in Vietnam, beheaded after less than 10 years spent doing mission work. Declared venerable by the Church in 1879, he greatly impressed Thérèse and left a rich correspondence with his contemporaries.

Thérèse sent Fr Roulland a poem she wrote, titled "A Théophane Vénard", in which she expressed her desire to become, like him, a "spring flower that the Lord will soon pick”.

And it is always to Fr Roulland that Thérèse confided her possible departure for the Carmel of Hanoi. The Carmelites prayed to Fr Vénard to entrust him with this project, but at the end of a novena, Thérèse’s worsening health forced her to remain in Lisieux. On 6 September 1897, she was able to receive a relic of the missionary martyr as a gift that she kept close to herself until she died.

Lastly, the exhibition looks at how "Story of a soul" and the spirituality of Thérèse of Lisieux spread in Asia thanks to the missionaries’ printing presses, in particular the one in Hong Kong.

A selection of pictures and manuscripts from before 1940 shows the dynamism of the missionaries that allowed Thérèse to reach even the remotest places in a few years, creating a bond that has resisted the test of time.