The Carmelite monks of Sicily and Veneto organized a
pilgrimage to Lisieux, a town in the north of France where the
Carmelite nun, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, had lived in a
convent. The pilgrimage started from Verona, a city in the
north of Italy, where the group coming from Sicily joined the
other from Veneto.
I could never imagine going on a pilgrimage to the north of
France, and I hadn’t even heard of Saint Therese of the Child
Jesus. It was a girl named Margherita, who attended Saint
Joseph Church in Enna, who proposed I take part in the
pilgrimage with her. Despite her young age, she had a degree
in classic literature and taught ancient Greek at Enna’s high
“It is not just a pilgrimage,” she said to me. “It is also a
sightseeing tour. We will visit Paris, a few castles by the Loire
River, and Versailles.”
I had fallen in love with Margherita, and the chance to go
on a trip together thrilled me. So I accepted with enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, people’s minds and hearts are changeable, and
a few days before the start of the trip she told me that she had
changed her mind and wouldn’t come. What to do? I could
cancel my booking, but I didn’t, despite the fact that travelling
with a group of people who I didn’t know didn’t thrill me at
At that time, I feared of travelling by airplane, and that
was not my only phobia. I also feared being isolated from
other people. What would I do alone on the trip? All the other
participants knew one another, while I didn’t know anyone. I
resigned myself to being alone for the duration of the trip, but
I felt very ill at ease.
After I arrived at the station in Verona, I walked to the
meeting place, which was not far away. A girl was waiting
there for the rest of the group. As soon as I arrived I seized the
opportunity not to be alone.
“My name is Vincenzino. What is your name?”
“My name is Lucia,” she answered. She was tall and lean
and had shadows under her eyes.
“Do you want to sit together on the bus?” I asked.
She looked at me with her broad eyes full of surprise.
Certainty she would have preferred saying no, but she was
too polite to refuse my request. “Okay,” she answered, “you
can sit close to me.”
I was relieved because I had solved my problem of being
alone, but over time I realized that I had behaved stupidly. In
fact, I had compelled that well-mannered girl to stay with me
while she might have preferred to travel with her friends
whose company was more enjoyable than mine. I had treated
her not as a human being but as a tool to solve my problem.
The trip leader was a Carmelite monk from northern Italy.
His name was Father Leo, and he was a very learned person
who knew Saint Therese’s life to perfection. He gladdened our
trip on the bus by telling biblical stories and, above all, talking
about Saint Therese.
“Saint Therese of the Child Jesus was declared a Doctor of
the Church by Pope John Paul II. She is the youngest person,
and the third woman, to be so honored in the history of the
Catholic Church. She died from tuberculosis when she was
just twenty-four years old.”
“What did she do to be declared a Doctor of the Church?”
asked one of the pilgrims.
“She pointed out the ‘Little Way’ to humans. It does not
take vast learning to know God, but it does take humility and
simplicity of heart,” answered Father Leo.
We had just visited the Palace of Versailles, and on the bus
Father Leo kept telling the humble life story of Saint Therese.
As for me, I couldn’t help comparing a nobleman’s life in the
Palace of Versailles to life in a convent. They were two opposite
ways of living. I concluded that everyone follows his or her
own path according to their destiny and tendencies, but in the
end paradise has its gates open to all, because God is inside
every human being.
What made an impression on me was when Father Leo
told us the story of Saint Therese’s miraculous recovery.
“At the end of 1882, Saint Therese was seized by a
persistent headache that lasted until Easter of the following
year. She was just nine years old. Afterwards, she got worse
and the doctor diagnosed a serious rare disease, unusual for a
little girl. She was bound to die, but one day while she was
praying before a statue portraying Our Lady, she saw the
Virgin Mary smiling at her. Suddenly big tears welled in the
little girl’s eyes. From then on she started recovering, and five
years later she entered the Carmelite convent as a cloistered
“How is it possible,” I asked Father Leo, “that a teenager is
allowed to take the vows?”
“You are right to ask this question,” he answered, “but
Saint Therese got a dispensation from the bishop. Indeed,
canon law is not as strict as civil law, thanks to the institution
of dispensation. Obviously, if the bishop allowed Saint Therese
to enter the convent at a very young age, he did so after due
On the way back when we were near the sanctuary of La
Salette, I took a seat near another pilgrim. At that moment I
saw Lucia laughing for the first time. Now she was sitting near
a nun, with whom she was at ease. As for me, I had overcome
my stupid fear of being alone.
On the way, Father Leo told us the story of the
apparition of Our Lady of La Salette. “One hundred fifty years
ago, La Salette was a small village in Southern France. There
were less than one thousand people living there. One day, two
children who had been minding the cows on Mount Sous-Les
Baisses came back to the village and reported that they had
seen a weeping beautiful lady.
“According to the children’s account, the apparition, who
spoke their dialect, was weeping because people didn’t respect
God anymore. The lady gave the children a few messages,
which were all based on her wish that human hearts are
converted to God.”
Our bus took us up to the top of the mount where the
apparition had happened. At that moment, thin mist alternated
with clear sky. I had the sensation that the whole area was
enveloped in mystery, as if Our Lady had left the imprint of
her apparition on the mountain.
When I returned home from the pilgrimage, I saw
Margherita with another man. I thought maybe they were just
friends, but unfortunately they were already engaged, and six
months later they got married.
I had lost Margherita, but I had gained much more. In fact,
the pilgrimage to Lisieux and La Salette strengthened my
personality. Now I had the sensation of being stronger and
less picky. Apparently, the teachings of Saint Therese about
keeping a simple and pure heart had worked.
Excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by ETTORE GRILLO
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind