Pope Francis’ devotion to St. Thérèse is common knowledge to those who know him well. He often turns to her in moments of worry. In the book “El Jesuita” (“The Jesuit”), Journalists Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti tell about a visit to Pope Francis’ apartment while he was still a cardinal. They write:“We paused before a vase full of white roses. In front of it was a photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. ‘Whenever I have a problem,’ then-Cardinal Bergoglio explained, ‘I ask her not to solve it, but to take it into her hands and to help me accept it, and I almost always receive a white rose as a sign.’”
When he was first elected Pope, the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate wrote on the internet that before he was Pope, they had seen him (then-Cardinal Bergoglio) visit their church in Rome so that he could spend time praying before the statue of St. Thérèse. He made a bee-line for the statue and kissed it on every visit. Also, anyone who has had the opportunity to receive a letter from Pope Francis knows that he has the habit of enclosing with it a picture of St. Thérèse.
It was reported in the news that on Sunday, September 8, 2013, the day after a long prayer vigil for peace in Syria, the Holy Father received a white rose as a surprise. It was given to him out of the blue from a gardener as he was taking a stroll in the Vatican Gardens.
The Pope’s devotion to St Thérèse goes back many years. Pope Francis explained that it was the famous prayer which seeks the intercession of St. Therese while asking her to send a rose—written and published in 1925 by a Jesuit, Fr. Putigan—that first inspired his devotion. He then recited a passage from it: “Little Flower of Jesus, ask God to grant me the grace that I place with confidence in your hands.” He added, “Do not be afraid to depend solely on the tenderness of God, as St. Thérèse of Lisieux did.” His devotion was so strong that it also spread to those living in the slums of Buenos Aires while he was Bishop there.
A certain journalist told of a conversation she had with Pope Francis. He had told her about a situation in which he put everything into St. Thérèse’s hands and, some time later, a woman stood in the doorway of the sacristy and gave him three white roses. The journalist related that she then told Pope Francis that she had also invoked the Saint but that, “…not one rose arrived for me. I understood because these things only happen to those who have already attained a certain level, like you.” She said that the Pope was silent and then replied, “That means that she will answer you and grant you a grace greater than the one you have asked for.” She concluded the story, saying, “…and it really was so.”
Our patroness, St. Thérèse, was not hard on others, because she spent her energy being very hard on herself. It does not really fit Pope Francis’ reputation that he would have such a love for a saint who was so strict. However, if he disagreed with the Little Flower’s stringent ways, he would certainly not esteem her as he does. St. Thérèse’s humility was such that she smiled at the nuns who were unkind to her. It could be that Pope Francis identifies with St. Thérèse as he did not always find life with his fellow Jesuits easy either. In his case, he attracted jealousy because of his popularity; whereas in St. Thérèse’s case, some of her fellow nuns looked down at her.
It is a good sign that Pope Francis is so close to a saint who was so humble and self-sacrificing.