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from issue no. 01/02 - 2005

«I lifted my eyes full of tears up to the Pope…»

So wrote Teresa of Lisieux after seeing Leo XIII on 20 November 1887, when she was fifteen

So wrote Teresa of Lisieux after seeing Leo XIII on 20 November 1887,
when she was fifteen

After the mass of thanksgiving that followed that of His Holiness, the audience began. Leo XIII was seated in a large easy chair, simply dressed in a white habit, a short cape of the same color, and wearing a skullcap. Around him were the cardinals, the archbishops, the bishops, but I didn’t see them except as a group, wholly occupied as I was with the Holy Father; we passed in front of him in procession, each pilgrim knelt in turn, kissed the hand and foot of Leo XIII, received the blessing, and two noble guards made a sign, according to the etiquette, to indicate that it was time for him to get up (I mean to say that they gave a sign to the pilgrims, I explain so badly that it might be thought they gave a sign to the Pope). Before going into the pontifical apartments I was well decided to speak, but I felt my courage fail when I saw at the right of the Holy Father «Monsignor Révérony!». Almost at the same instant we were told by him that it was forbidden to speak to Leo XIII, the audience would last too long. I turned to dear Celine, to find out what she thought: «Speak!» she told me. A minute later I was at the feet of the Holy Father; I kissed his slipper, he offered his hand, but, instead of kissing it, I joined my hands and I lifted my eyes full of tears toward him: «Holy Father», I said, «I have a great favor to ask of you.» Then the Supreme Pontiff lowered the head toward me, in such a way that my face almost touched his, and I saw his dark deep eyes fix on me, he seemed to penetrate the depths of the soul. «Holy Father», I said, «in honor of your jubilee, allow me to enter the convent at fifteen!…». Of course emotion made my voice quiver, so the Holy Father, turning to Monsignor Révérony, who looked at me in astonishment and displeasure, said: «I don’t understand very well». If the good God had allowed, it would have been easy for Monsignor Révérony to get me what I desired, but instead he wanted to give me the cross and not yet the consolation. «Holy Father» the vicar general answered, «she’s a child who wants to enter the convent at fifteen, but the superiors are examining the question».
The good Pope is so old he could almost be dead, I would never have imagined him so, he can almost say nothing, and so it is Monsignor Révérony who speaks.
«Well, my daughter», the Holy Father answered looking at me with goodness, «do what the superiors tell you». Then, leaning my hands on his knees, I made a last effort and said in a beseeching voice: «Oh! Most Holy Father, if you said “yes”, they would all agree!…». He looked at me fixedly and pronounced these words, weighing each syllable: «Well… well… You shall enter if God wills it!…». (His expression was so penetrating and convinced, that I seem to hear him yet). Because the goodness of the Holy Father gave me courage, I wanted to speak again, but the two noble guards touched me politely to make me stand up; and seeing that that wasn’t enough, they took me by the arms, and Monsignor Révérony helped them lift me, because I stayed there with my hands leaning on the knees of Leo XIII, and they dragged me as a deadweight away from his feet… In the moment they were carrying me away like that, the Holy Father placed his hand on my lips, then lifted it to bless me, then my eyes filled with tears, and Monsignor Révérony could contemplate at least as many diamonds as he had seen in Bayeux.
Taken from The Story of a Soul, paragraphs 173-174

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