Relics of Saint Therese of Lisieux completed a four-month tour of the United States yesterday, attracting about 1.1 million viewers from La Plata to Honolulu.
"The reception all over the country was bigger than expected," said the Rev. Donald Kinney, an Oregon-based Carmelite priest who chairs the St. Therese Relics Committee and accompanied the wood-and-gilt reliquary for much of its 117-day journey. "Not only was there an extraordinary turnout of Catholics, but also of people from all walks of life--Jews, Mormons, Muslims, Protestants, even those who don't believe in anything."
Therese, a French Carmelite nun who died in 1897 at age 24 and was canonized in 1925, is best known for her writings about the "Little Way," a simple method of achieving spiritual fulfillment in a humdrum world. Her nickname is "Little Flower," and rose petals are her symbol.
In October, more than 16,000 people saw the reliquary during its four-day visit in the Washington area. Hundreds greeted the relics when they arrived in La Plata, the first U.S. stop, and lined up at all-night vigils at Carmelite chapels in the District. Thousands more attended two noonday Masses at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The crowds only got larger, Kinney said by telephone from the Star of the Sea Church in Honolulu, the last of 140 stops in 50 cities and 25 states. The largest single event, he said, was in the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, where 50,000 people filed through the National Shrine of the Little Flower during a 16-hour period. Police had to turn away 25,000 others.
In New York, 15,000 crowded outside St. Patrick's Cathedral, forcing police to close Fifth Avenue for half an hour; 40,000 more came over two days. About 100,000 people turned out during a week-long stay in the Chicago area. San Antonio counted 72,000 in one weekend; New Orleans, 75,000 over two days. Therese was a huge hit in Miami, drawing 127,000 visitors over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Except for a few flights, the carved box containing some of the saint's bones was transported in a van dubbed the "Therese-mobile," which logged 12,000 miles. Now the reliquary goes to the Philippines until after Easter. Then it travels to Taiwan, Hong Kong and other spots around the globe.
Therese's worldwide tour, which began in 1995, could go on indefinitely--"at least" for three more years, Kinney said.