LA SALETTE

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La Salette

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

school.

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

all.

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

nun.”

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

consideration.”

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

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:

– A Hidden Sicilian History

– The Vibrations of Words

– Travels of the Mind

www.sbpra.com/ettoregrillo

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