On Sunday 8 September, the day after the long prayer vigil for peace in Syria – when some passages from texts written by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux were read out – Pope Francis received a white rose as a surprise. Francis considers the flower to be a “sign” linked to the devotion of the saint. The Archbishop of Ancona and Osimo, Edoardo Menichelli broke the news, with Francis authorisation.
Bergoglio told him about the rose a day before the prelate was due to present a book in Pedaso, in the Italian region of Marche. The prelate recounted the story during the presentation. The book presented was an essay by theologian and writer Gianni Gennari entitled “Teresa di Lisieux. Il fascino della santità. I segreti di una dottrina ritrovata” (“Thérèse of Lisieux. The fascination of sainthood. Secrets of a rediscovered doctrine”) and published by Lindau. This was the book Francis took with him when he flew to Brazil last July.
“The Pope told me he received the freshly-picked white rose out of the blue from a gardener as he was taking a stroll in the Vatican Gardens on Sunday 8 September,” Mgr. Menichelli said. “The Pope sees this flower as a “sign”, a “message” from Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, whom he had turned to in a moment of worry the day before.” The Archbishop passed on the Pope’s greetings to those attending the book presentation, adding that he had been authorised to tell them about the rose. The Pope did not say anything about the white rose having any connection to the peace vigil for Syria the previous evening. But it is not hard to imagine that one of the Pope’s worries at the time was the international situation, the massacres in Syria and the West’s proposed intervention in the Middle Eastern country.
What significance does the white rose have for the Pope? Bergoglio mentions it in “El Jesuita” (“The Jesuit”), a book interview written by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti when he was still a cardinal. In a description the two journalists give of Bergoglio’s library in Buenos Aires, they write: “We pause before a vase full of white roses standing on a shelf in the library. In front of it is a photograph of Saint Thérèse. “Whenever I have a problem,” Bergoglio explained to the journalists, “I ask the saint 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.” Pope Francis’ devotion for the Carmelite mystic who died at the young age of 24 in 1897, was canonized by Pius XI and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by John Paul II in 1997, is common knowledge. Francis himself told journalists about it on the flight back from Rio de Janeiro after World Youth Day. When she was still alive, Thérèse had promised that when she died she would shower “rose petals” down from the sky, a sign of her intercession. “A soul inflamed with love can not remain inactive … If only you knew what I plan to do when I’m in heaven … I will spend my heaven by doing good on earth.” So during the peace vigil held in St. Peter’s Square on 7 September, the mysteries of the rosary were recited along with passages from the Gospel and verses from a piece of poetry written by the saint.
The rose devotion and message did not begin with Bergoglio. On 3 December 1925 Fr. Putigan, a Jesuit, began a novena to ask for something very important. He also asked for a sign, to know whether his prayers had been heard. He asked for a rose to be sent to him. He didn’t speak to anyone about the novena or about the unusual request he made to the saint. Then, in the third day of the novena he received the rose he had asked for and his prayer was therefore answered. He then started another novena and on the fourth day of this prayer, a nurse/nun brought him a white rose and said to him: “Saint Thérèse sends you this rose.” So the Jesuit decided to spread the word about this “miraculous” novena which he named after the roses, making it famous worldwide.
This article was originally published by the Vatican Insider.