Guest post by Su Yam
(In the early autumn of 2009, we Americans read British reports of the thousands of faithful who flocked to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse of Liseux during a nearly four-week tour of England and Wales. Su Yam, one of our UK readers, was there at Westminster Cathedral in London and offered to file this personal report.)
As soon as I heard that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were coming to the UK, I knew that I wanted to be there. I wasn't certain of my reasons, but my heart felt pulled in a very definite way; so I prayed and asked God to let me go and to help me with the details.
I'm only beginning to explore all there is to know about the saints, and until recently I didn't know many of them, but I did know St. Thérèse. My local library has a copy of Monica Furlong's book about her, and I had read it twice over the last few years.
I didn't tell many people that I was going, as I am an Anglo-Catholic, some of my friends are happy-clappy evangelicals, my family are not Christians, and I just wasn't sure who would understand. Some may have said that I was going to worship some dead bones, some may have said I was being macabre, thinking that the actual body parts would be visible, instead of held in the reliquary shown here. Some might have said that I had lost sight of the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But by then I had sorted out my own feelings and reasons for going.
My main reason was that I was sure God's presence would be there in a tangible way, and I wanted to be wherever He was. My other reason was that I knew people have been healed when in the presence of these relics, and I wanted healing for myself and my loved ones.
So on October 13, I set off to Westminster Cathedral in London with a list of prayer requests, my rosary, and a plain white handkerchief. I went by myself. I had thought about asking a friend, but then I realised that I wanted to be able to be completely me, without worrying about someone else's experience and comfort. I wanted it to just be God, St. Thérèse, and me.
I arrived at 10 a.m. and got in the queue, surprised that there weren't more people waiting. But five minutes later I turned around to see hordes of people quietly lined up behind me. I hadn't even noticed! Next to the queue outside the cathedral was a big screen showing live video of the relics and people venerating them. This helped me because I had never visited relics before and I was nervous about what I should do.
As the queue reached the front steps of the cathedral we passed a little stall selling St. Thérèse candles and roses. I bought a candle. Once inside the cathedral, I found that the waiting queue was patient and peaceful, and I prayed in my mind for all the items on my prayer list. The relics were in a beautiful box shaped like a treasure chest (appropriate!), and this was encased in a glass dome.
When my turn came, I took out the handkerchief I had brought along and pressed it onto the glass. As I stood there I prayed. I don't remember what I prayed, but God does! I know I prayed for healing and blessings for myself and my children, my husband, family and friends. I didn't feel anyone was rushing me or wanting me to move on, but after a minute or so I did move and went to sit with others who had queued and prayed and were now sitting or kneeling and praying some more. As I sat looking at the relics I felt happy, peaceful, and complete. Nothing else mattered. I knelt and prayed a decade of my rosary and then sat quietly enjoying the atmosphere.
By now the normal mass had begun beyond a screen spanning the center of the cathedral. The priest wore a microphone, so although we couldn't see anything of the mass, we could hear it. As the priest began the Alleluia preceding the Gospel, everyone in the cathedral joined in spontaneously—it was truly beautiful! I couldn't help smiling and thinking how lovely that must have sounded to God and how much He would have cherished it.
As I sat and watched others venerate, I thought how many different types of people had come to do the same thing. There were coachloads and small groups, solitary visitors and groups of religious. But for me the loveliest sight was classes of schoolchildren in their uniforms filing past and bowing and kissing the dome. I hope they never forget the blessing of being so close to a saint's relics. I know I won't.
As I left the cathedral, I felt as though my heart was burning in my chest. I felt whole emotionally and spiritually; I know that in some way I was healed.
Since then I have continued to want more and more of Jesus and to fall in love with Our Father a bit more each day. I would say to anyone who gets the chance to visit relics to never hesitate, even for a moment.
The handkerchief I took that day is safely tucked away at home. I don't know what prompted me to take it, but I figure that one day I may be glad I did.