DUARTE, Calif. (AP) - As the faithful quietly shuffled toward the gold-trimmed, jacaranda wood box holding the remains of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Carolyn Cianciolo shuddered with emotion, tears welling up in her eyes.
"It's just very touching,'' said the 55-year-old Cianciolo, a lifelong Catholic. "It's her little way that brought us here.''
Cianciolo was one of thousands of faithful, from Mexicans to Vietnamese, who visited the relics displayed for three days this week at Santa Teresita Hospital, a former tuberculosis sanitarium for girls founded by Carmelite nuns from Mexico in 1930.
The stop in Duarte, a town nestled against the San Gabriel Mountains east of Los Angeles, is one of the last in the United States for the remains of the French-born nun; the relics have toured the world since 1995. They will leave for Asia at the end of January after attracting roughly a million visitors during a four-month U.S. stay.
The international popularity of St. Therese comes despite her relative anonymity. She lived a modest life as a Carmelite nun, preaching that devotion can be expressed by doing small things for Christ. Unlike larger-than-life figures like Joan of Arc, St. Therese was simple, even common--traits to which many people say they can relate.
She died in 1897 at age 24, before having the chance to travel abroad to preach.
"She wanted to travel to all five continents but died at a young age,'' said Mother Vincent Marie, a Carmelite nun in Los Angeles. "Now her relics are traveling to all five.''
Already, the tour has inspired scenes of hope and devotion.
In Santa Fe, N.M., Veronica Griego carried her 6-month-old son, born with a bad heart valve, to view the remains. Griego said she hoped for ``a little miracle.''
A horse-drawn carriage brought the relics to St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Miami. Eight men later carried the reliquary around church grounds as school children carrying the saint's photograph threw rose petals in their path.
When the relics first arrived in Duarte at Santa Teresita Hospital--St. Therese in Spanish--long-term and terminally ill patients "stretched out their hands in faith'' to touch the reliquary, Mother Vincent Marie said.
The relics themselves are simple--three bones in a Plexiglas-protected case--and belie the depth of devotion they evoke.
Vietnamese, in particular, are drawn to St. Therese because she wanted to preach in Hanoi, but died of tuberculosis before making the trip.
Many also say they were moved by her autobiography, "Story of a Soul,'' in which she recounts her simple but strong religious devotion.
"I am a very little soul who can only offer very little things to God,'' she wrote.
Born in 1873, St. Therese became a Carmelite nun in Lisieux at age 15. Though she died young, her autobiography secured her status as one of the highest-ranking saints in the Catholic world.
Pope Pius X called her the ``greatest saint of modern times'' even before she was canonized in 1925. She is a co-patron of foreign missions along with St. Francis Xavier and a secondary patron saint of France along with Joan of Arc. St. Therese also was named a Doctor of the Church in 1997 by Pope John Paul II, a title given to select saints who profoundly influence the church.
A World Wide Web site devoted to her at www.littleflower.org has drawn about 180,000 visitors since 1997. The nickname "Little Flower'' came from St. Therese's belief that each soul was a flower in God's garden.
Mary Sesti, 84, who came to view the relics in Duarte, said St. Therese proved the greatest lesson.
"If she can be a saint in little ways, then we can, too,'' Sesti said.
At the Santa Teresita Hospital chapel, tiles depicting yellow roses falling to the ground can be spotted above the entrance, a reference to St. Therese's remark that she would "send down a shower of roses'' after her death.
For those close to the hospital, the visiting relics are a "wonderful way to start the new millennium, with our own rose queen,'' said Mother Vincent Marie.
After they depart the United States on Jan. 28, the relics will travel on to the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
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