Santa Tereza tal-Bambin Gesu

(Saint Thérèse of Lisieux) Church

Birkirkara - Malta

 

Please click the images below,

for panoramic views of the interior of the church:

 

  

Central View

 

Altar View

 

Altar View from Left

 

Right side view

(Statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel)

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The Discalced Carmelite Friars

The Discalced Carmelite Friars opened their second convent with an adjacent Church dedicated to St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori,in 1896, at the invitation of Mr. Alphonse M. Micallef. In Normandy (France), at this time, Therese of Lisieux had just finished writing what was to be her masterpiece chapter 9 of her autobiography Story of a Soul), in the midst of her trial of faith. As she was preparing to "enter into Life", the first six friars of the newly-established Semi-Province of the Sacred Heart of Jesus were chosen to lead their Carmelite life at the outskirts of the populated town of Birkirkara.On November 14, 1896 the friars held their first public function in the Church of St. Alphonsus by chanting the Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) as is their custom on Saturdays till this day. The day after, November 15, Father Carmel of the Child Jesus, first Vicar Provincial of the Semi-Province, celebrated Mass and proceeded to bless the new premises. Archbishop Peter Pace followed by the chant of the Te Deum. The Sunday after, the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was carried from the parish church of Birkirkara, accompanied by the Canons of Birkirkara, the Jesuit Fathers, parish confraternities and children of the Bugeja Institute. One needs to mention here the contribution of the Marquise Anna Bugeja, who generously paid for the construction of the grotto and other decorations related to it, including the statues ordered from Paris of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette.

The friars were warmly welcomed by the ever growing population of the area and nearby villages. Their pastoral ministry, especially with regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spiritual direction, was sought after to the extent that the church had to be enlarged twice: in 1904 and 1909. Between these two dates, the friars optioned in favor of having a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be carried in procession. The devout statue was ordered from Lecce, Italy, and designed by Arthur Galdes. Till this day it is venerated in the Sanctuary of St. Therese and her local feast day is celebrated on the third Sunday of July. The image of Our Lady is seen holding the infant Jesus, with Our Lady handing the brown Scapular to St. Simon Stock, as a sign of her motherly protection. To her left was added the figure of Teresa of Avila, the Reformer of Carmel and first woman Doctor of the Church, presenting her ardent love to Jesus. In 1927 the friars initiated a feast in honour of St. Therese. Nothing out of the ordinary, one may think. But by then, the Saint from Lisieux had charmed the world with her hidden life lived in child-like simplicity and total abandonment to Merciful Love. Her autobiography was published locally in whole (1926, 1933) or in abridged form (1928). Two reviews in particular continued to spread devotion towards her: the first saw the light of day in 1932 and the second in 1951. As John Beevers states in his book Storm of Glory,

"St. Therese of the Child Jesus is the greatest saint of modern times, not because of her miracles and not because of the world-wide acclaim she receives and the devotion she inspires. She enjoys her pre-eminence because she has liberated sanctity and made it obviously accessible to everyone."

The result of dedicated ministry and pressing needs to accommodate the growing numbers of attendance at Church services was the new Sanctuary dedicated to the Little Flower. It is a large modern Rotunda that holds a corrugated roof in reinforced concrete, a masterpiece of art and modern technology. Begun in 1965 according to the design of Giorgio Pacini of Rome, construction was completed in 1982.

It is considered as one of the most functional large churches in Malta, so much so that it is chosen as the site for many national and diocesan meetings. On Sundays and Holy Days of obligation throughout the year, the Sanctuary is filled to capacity by worshippers who travel from all over the Island of Malta. The dimensions of the Sanctuary are: diameter 40 meters (128’), the presbytery’s diameter 10 meters (33’), the two side chapels dedicated to St. Therese and Our Lady of Mount Carmel have a diameter each of 12 meters 42’). The highest central part of the church is 30 meters (99’) and the side belfry 40 meters (128’) high. An inner matroneo runs around the whole Sanctuary until it reaches the side chapels. Worth mentioning are the two exterior doors of the chapels that depict the shower of roses the Little Flower pledged to let fall down from heaven on one and all, and her vocation to be Love in the heart of the Church.

The altar of the Sanctuary is constructed in a large solid marble block portraying the crest of the Order on a background of linen and roses. The niche of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is the latest artwork in oak added to the Sanctuary. The designs of the above-mentioned articles were prepared by the artist Frank Portelli. The central focus of devotion is the Urn of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. The wax effigy of the Saint was moulded in Rome during the Centenary Year of her death, in the month of July 1997. An earlier wax statue which from Genoa entered the Msida harbour on March 4, 1960 in preparation for the construction of the Sanctuary, was totally destroyed in a fire that broke out in the Sanctuary on March 1, 1997.

The wax image of the Saint, containing some of her relics, is similar to the one found in the Carmel of Lisieux. The material for the brown habit and the black veil was generously donated by the nuns of the Lisieux Carmel. A three-foot-statue of Our Lady of the Smile adorns  the Urn of Saint Therese, an exact replica of the statue that accompanied the Little Flower since her childhood days and today is venerated in the chapel of Lisieux. At the feet of the statue of Therese lays the biretta as a reminder of her being proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1997 in recognition of the excellence and universal appeal of her holiness and teaching on the Little Way of child-like trust in God.

Celine, the Saint’s sister, was instrumental in inspiring the Lisieux nuns to donate to the Maltese Sanctuary a brick from their infirmary where Therese had died, as well as the Mass vestments used on the day of her reception of the black veil. The devotion to the Little Flower in Malta is widespread among the Catholic population of more than 300,000 inhabitants -- in fact one of the most densely populated regions in Europe. Her complete works are being translated in Maltese, in order to promote her Little Way of spiritual childhood. Her mere presence evokes the freshness of the Gospels and her untiring mission continues on. As she remarked on July 17, 1897, "My mission is about to begin, my mission of making God loved as I love him, of giving my little way to souls. ... My heaven will be spent on earth ... Yes, I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth."

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Saint Thérèse of Lisieux

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was born Thérèse Martin, 1873 in Alençon, France. At the age of 15 she followed two of her older sisters into the Carmel of Lisieux, taking the name Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She was only 23 when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. During the final year of her life she was encouraged by her sisters to write a simple book of her memoirs. This turned out to be one of the great spiritual texts of the 20th century: The Story of a Soul. Thérèse died in 1897. Canonized in 1924, she has been one of the most popular saints among 20th century Catholics. Her doctrine of the spiritual life is very simple and yet very profound.

The Carmelitana Collection contains many different editions of the Story of a Soul in a variety of languages. Over the last twenty years there have also been publications of Thérèse's correspondence, her poetry, the plays she wrote to be performed in the convent, and recollections of conversations with Therese gathered by the nuns who lived with her.

Thérèse was immensely popular in the first half of this century, and then her cult seemed to go into decline in the post-Vatican II years. Recently interest in her has increased again as modern Catholics have found new sources of inspiration in her writing. The Catholic activist, Dorothy Day, always looked to Thérèse as a source of inspiration and wrote a book about her. Mother Teresa also propounds her as an example for the modern Christian. What seems to draw people to Thérèse is the centrality of love in her doctrine. When Thérèse speaks of love, she is simple, direct, and pragmatic. A person of intense clarity, Thérèse teaches a path of discipleship that is as pertinent today as ever. She has been acclaimed as "teacher of the true science of Love" by John Paul II, who in 1977 declared her Doctor of the Church, the youngest one to be ushered in as Doctor for the third millennium.

To be your Spouse, to be a Carmelite, and by my union with You to be the Mother of souls, should not this suffice me? And yet it is not so. No doubt, these three privileges sum up my true vocation: Carmelite, Spouse, Mother, and yet I feel within me other vocations. I feel the vocation of the WARRIOR, THE PRIEST, THE APOSTLE, THE DOCTOR, THE MARTYR, I feel the need and the desire of carrying out the most heroic deeds for you, O Jesus. I feel within my soul the courage of the Crusader...

My Jesus! What is your answer to all my follies? Is there a soul more little, more powerless than mine? Nevertheless even because of my weakness, it has pleased You, O Lord, to grant my little childish desires and You desire, today, to grant other desires that are greater than the universe.

During my meditation, my desires caused me a veritable martyrdom, and I opened the Epistles of St. Paul to find some kind of answer. Chapters 12 and 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians fell under my eyes. I read there, in the first of these chapters, that all cannot be apostles, prophets, doctors, etc. That the Church is composed of different members, and that the eye cannot be the hand at one and the same time. The answer was clear, but it did not fulfill my desires and gave me no peace. But just as Mary Magdalene found what she was seeking by always stooping down and looking into the empty tomb, so I, abasing myself to the very depths of my nothingness, raised myself so high that I was able to attain my end. Without becoming discouraged, I continued my reading, and this sentence consoled me: "Yet strive after THE BETTER GIFTS, and I point out to you a yet more excellent way. And the apostle explains how all the most PERFECT gifts are nothing without LOVE. That Charity is the EXCELLENT WAY that leads most surely to God.

I finally had rest. Considering the mystical body of the Church, I had not recognized myself in any of the members described by St. Paul, or rather I desired to see myself in them all. Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and most noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a Heart and that this Heart was BURNING WITH LOVE. I understood it was Love alone that made the Church's members act, that if Love ever became extinct, apostles would not preach the Gospel and martyrs would not shed their blood. I understood that LOVE COMPRISED ALL VOCATIONS, THAT LOVE WAS EVERYTHING, THAT IT EMBRACED ALL TIMES AND PLACES...IN A WORD, THAT IT WAS ETERNAL!

Then, in the excess of my delirious joy, I cried out, O Jesus, my Love...my vocation, at last I have found it...MY VOCATION IS LOVE.!

From: STORY OF A SOUL: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX translated by John Clarke, OCD, 1972. Copyright ICS Publications. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, if this copyright notice is included.

 

This site was produced with the kind help of the Discalced Carmelite Fathers.

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30/9/2009

©2009 Produced by Martin Micallef

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