Gathering at London’s St. Pancras International Train station – some by 9:00 a.m. and others as best they could – our group of ten pilgrims (not counting one pilgrim who will join tomorrow, and our most reverend Fr. Kelvin Ekhoegbe, OCD. departed at approximately 11:30 a.m. enroute to Paris, France.

At St. Pancras, Fr. Kelvin greeted each of us and presented us with a Carmelite backpack to include a beautifully designed and complete pilgrimage itinerary and daily morning and evening prayers.

Our pilgrimage theme is cantered around Mary’s “Yes” and ‘Why Do I love You Mary’. Fr. Kelvin gave us an uplifting talk directed towards ways to sustain ourselves in our relationship with the Lord – to engage in ways (especially prayer life) that integrate both heart and mind.

He further explained in depth Mary’s “yes,” and how Mary went most willingly into the unknowns with complete trust and abandonment to the Father’s Will. Her fullness of “yes” was completely received within her.

Therese lived her life, as Fr Kelvin expounded, in imitation of Mary. She learned early on, after numerous, painful, abandonments; first with her mother not being able to nurse her and being replaced by a wet-nurse, then her mother’s death, then Pauline’s departure, followed by Marie’s departure, which prompted her to turn with complete abandonment towards Our Mother who does not leave us.

We arrived Lisieux just after 6:00 p.m. at the Hermitage of St Therese bringing forth a desert experience. We were warmly welcomed by the head of Reception who had already prepared for us with our keys most efficiently awaiting our arrival. Their friendly smiles and help made our settling down smooth and efficient.

The accommodation is lovely and just as one would expect Therese’s surroundings to be like. It is shaped much like a monastery and is beautifully adorned with big white-, yellow- and rose-coloured roses, of course!

After checking into our individual rooms, without a hitch, we proceeded to the main dining hall which handily accommodated our small group plus several other pilgrimage groups. It was lovely to pray before and after dinner (in French) with these other groups and
our hosts. We enjoyed a laid-back French meal of a kind of nicely spiced cabbage, spinach and cheese quiche, salad, bread and wine.

After a leisurely dinner we went outside where we gazed at the garden area with a large statue of Therese and got quick and easy directions for internet if needed, gate and door lock numbers and then walked down to the chapel and monastery before retiring for the night and pondering, ‘how am I drawn?’

After a brief boarding delay, we boarded #8 and sat comfortably in sections of 2+2 (4) facing seat arrangements which made getting to know one another easy and comfortable. Our group – though small in number – are largely endowed with rich pilgrimage experience, charity, and good cheer. We enjoyed several hours of coffee chats about people, travel, work, and of course…Carmel. Arriving Paris we began our coach ride to Lisieux.

The traffic from Paris train station was slow-going at first due to a long weekend holiday where Parisians were either just returning or just leaving to or from. Our grade-A motor coach was expertly driven and was really comfy. We got a bird’s eye view of that area of Paris where we saw streets after streets lined with used items being sold. We learned about a French concept of travellers leaving behind unwanted things which were then resold on the streets. Not the Eifel Tower part of town but interesting all the same.

Not long after we turned on to the main highway it was smooth sailing through Paris’s long tunnels and then out of the city to gaze on softly rolling, lush and oh-so-green pasturelands dotted with countryside hamlets and communities.

Therese truly modelled through her act of faith; to willingly go into the darkness of faith, trusting in God’s guidance. She was also willing to be in the darkness. This is captured in one of her poems: “A Gloss on the Divine”.

“…without support yet with support
Living without Light, in darkness,
I am wholly being consumed by love
have no other support than my God
And now I proclaim:
What I value near Him
Is to see and feel my soul
Supported without any support.
(Poetry of St Therese)

Our Retreat pilgrimage will not be chalked full of things to see but instead encourages each of us to meditate on ways to sustain our relationship with God especially in prayer, devotions and/or that which we are called to and to support one another in this vein as we travel along. Like Mary and Therese, we are being called to respond with our “yes” and lots of unknowns, and to willingly abandon ourselves as we respond to God’s love each and every day. How are we drawn?

At 7:50 a.m. we gathered together encircled in the meeting room next to the Hermitage chapel for a guided meditation drawing us into a restful silence… and our second day in Lisieux begins.

After a leisurely French breakfast of bread, croissants, jam, juice and – for some of us – much needed coffee, followed by a treasurable forty-five minutes of free time, to ready for the day. It is gloriously sunny, bright and brisk outdoors.

At 9:45 a.m. we gather to head off to Alencon, which occurred at 10:00 a.m. All along the route to Alencon we were blessed with not only a glorious, sunny day but with the loveliest of all agrarian views of pasturelands, a few crops, hamlets, and grazing cattle, sheep and more. The entire area appears “alive”. The grass is so green, the water rushing and brisk, the cows even seem to sing they are quite beautiful contently grazing in their meadows. No wonder St. Therese was so in love with nature and flowers and why St. Louis loved to be fishing! In more ways than imagined we were treated with the simplicity, the purity, and beauty of how life can be lived in nature and in our families.

In light of our pilgrimage theme of abandonment into the darkness and dependence on the Lord through the filial love of Mary, Fr. Kelvin then recounted the story of Therese and her stairway fears. With each step along the way she called upon her mother (Zelie) to give her permission to take another step, depending on her wisdom and loving guidance into safety. She waited upon each step and when/if her mother
did not respond right away Therese would simply hold, her position and stay until her mother directed her. This image we hold of Therese and her fear of the unknowns along the stairway path was the solid basis that would later yield – in part – to her “Little Way” doctrine that similarly used the elevator image as the replacement of mother’s good guidance and safety to that of Our Lord himself taking “Little” Therese up into his arms providing an elevator of sorts to her Paradiso. The underpinning of the doctrine and imagery is the “littleness” of one who accepts and responds as children, dependent on His infinite mercy and love.

Therese cries out “mama mama
at each step”…Therese my child
replied Zelie

This is an elevator that only allows little ones in. Fr. Kelvin reminded us of Therese’s two scriptural basis for this image: 1. Prov. 9: 4-14 “whosoever is a little one let them come to me” and Jesus would say in the Gospel, “let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:14). 2. Is. 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts so I will comfort
you. I will hold you at my breast, and dandle on my knees”. Fr. Kelvin explains that Jesus is the elevator for the little, frail and weak ones who picks them up and takes them to Him. We need to be able to respond to His invitation “Come to me”.

“…not allowing one little sacrifice to
escape, not one look, one word,
profiting by all the smallest things
and doing them through love”

“Everything is grace,
grace is everything”.

On the way to Alençon – in betwixt and between the natural landscapes – we were given another beautiful talk by Fr. Kelvin to go deeper into ‘Why I love you, O Mary’ and her ‘yes’. He explained in detail the memories of the Martin family starting in 1854 at where Sts. Louis and Zelie first met – a marriage made in heaven – and destined for goodness. Both Zelie and Louis aspired towards religious life, and both were denied the vocation as they were destined for the vocation to marriage.

St. Louis became a successful watchmaker and St. Zelie a lace-maker of what would become the Dentelle au Point d’Alençon lace making, now almost extinct. On July 13th in the same year, they met, Louis and Zelie were married at the Notre Dame church in Alencon where Therese was also baptized. We had the joy of participating at the solemn Mass of the Ascension of the Lord with baptism of 7 children.

Sts. Louis and Zelie were canonized in 2015 by Pope Francis after being Beatified by St. John Pope Paul II. Of prime importance it was the first time the Vatican ever recognized a married couple together as saints. In their vocation of marriage, they were blessed in Alencon with nine children; only five of which lived: Marie, Pauline, Celine, Leonie and Therese.

For Therese it was important that the way has 3 characteristics: It must be straight, short and new. Since elevators had just recently been introduced during this time; that and her vivid experience of the stairs and the need to be lifted by some means – first by the love
and nurturing of her mother and lastly by the arms of Jesus to heaven, the ultimate elevator. We need to become as little children, wholly dependent upon his infinite mercy and love…trusting in His guidance. Therese – through her own experience of woundedness became a ‘Wounded Healer’ and remains so to this day. Her “Little Way” demonstrates also that not even imperfections can discourage us before the Lord for He knows us even better than we but need to trust Him and have confidence in His Infinite mercy knowing He is doing all in me (us).

We were then given a lovely allocution on the importance of a name. Name in French religious context takes on a deeper meaning; a mystery which defines your past. When a pope is elected, he is asked, “by what name would you like to be called” or “by what mystery do you want to be known or identified?” Therese took on – in religious life – the name or names of St. Therese of the Child Jesus [and] the Holy Face of Jesus. Fr. emphasized its deeper meaning as it reflects two moments of the life of Christ: helpless at the birth, in the stable in Bethlehem and again at the end on the Cross when Jesus was helpless, completely, vulnerable and at the mercy of others. Similarly, the “Little Way” and the very choosing of this name: St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face of Jesus was born of this mystery.

Visiting the Museum of the home and birthplace of St Therese, we were given an amazing tour by Sr. Marie Catherina who was as welcoming as she was knowledgeable of the Martin family.

We returned to our motorcoach and journey back again with the beautiful backdrop of the countryside and all our stories of the day. Back at the Hermitage, we celebrated Evening prayer at the Monastery chapel facing the tomb of St. Therese. This was followed by another satisfying dinner and Adoration at 8:30 p.m. although many of us contemplated the blessings of the day and how they relate to how we are drawn. May God be praised.

Today, we began our day in the meeting room at the Hermitage of St Therese where we gathered for a short meditation and Lauds followed by breakfast. Afterwards, we took a short walk down to the Carmel monastery, museum, and chapel with a wee bit of retail therapy for some.

For many of us seeing Therese for the first time or for some seeing her again was the highlight as she was meticulously and beautifully enshrined behind a gated wall but fully visible. Many of us sat and prayed and/or meditated there. The monastery was built in 1835 but the chapel took longer before completion. Fr. Kelvin stressed the importance of the ordinary life in the Martin family and how this was in no way detrimental to the holiness of their spiritual lives as is abundantly evident. And this is so helpful to all those who strive towards holiness to know that it is very often in the ordinariness and even ‘mundane’ lives that saints are grown.

After Therese’s death, as devotion to her began to gain attention, her body was exhumed first time on December 6, 1910 and placed in well-built coffin and again in 1917 and then in 1920. Therese was beatified and canonized in 1923 and 1925 respectively. Therese was made a Doctor of the Church by John Paul II in 1997 – the youngest ever.

The remains of Louis and Zelie in the Crypt were especially impressive and offered deep reflections on the meaning of family today learning much from Sts. Louis and Zelie of how important a priority family is to the spiritual life. After exploring the Basilica, we split up into groups and found unique places to have lunch, relax, reflect, and enjoy the gloriously sunny and bright day given us this day.

At about 4:00 p.m. we again departed the Hermitage for a walk; this time, up the road to “Les Buissonnets,” the Martin home shortly after Zelie’s death. This would be Therese’s home for eleven years before departing for the Carmel monastery in Lisieux.

This home was exactly as we would have imagined after reading the ‘Story of A Soul’ and other books and study on the saint. It was beautifully adorned, but not pretentious, warm, and inviting and filled with items she herself described to us (well, to her Sisters). It brought smiles to some of us remembering the story of “I’ll take all of it!” when asked to choose from a basket of items.

Fr. Kelvin concelebrated Mass with one of the French priests and we were all impressed with his good French. A short while after Mass we took another walk up towards the Basilica of St. Therese which was très magnifique!!! Both the Crypt and the Upper part of the Basilica was adorned with mosaic tiles at the main altar and also displayed mosaic images and pictures depicting many of her life stories at the main altar and numerous side altars as well.

The dolls, the pens, the clothes, and all the rest of it was so familiar even though it was the first time for many of us to see the home and decorations and belongings. We toured not only the home but also the garden pondering her childhood up until her fifteenth year when she left Les Buissonnets to enter the religious life in Carmel. Though our walks were not far we journeyed far and wide with Therese today through her short journey of twenty-four years and pondering how she was drawn in and how we too are drawn daily.

At the place in the garden where Therese requested her Father’s permission to enter Carmel, the group celebrated the Evening praise with the Ragina Caeli beautifully sung.

Our day ended with dinner at the Hermitage and to our surprise it was the new groups of adult pilgrims from Poland that shared the dinning with us, though they were quite noisy at dinner but joyful. It was a day Therese herself seemed to have prepared.

We all retired to prepare our Journey to Fatima in the exploration of Mary’s yes to God.

We journeyed back across the French countryside on another gloriously sunny day and prayed the morning prayers and listened to Fr. Kelvin’s talk about the connection between Therese and her “Little Way” and Fatima. Just as Therese had discovered her vocation in Love and desired deeply to pray for the conversion of souls, especially for the prisoner Pranzini’s conversion, we too, in our spiritual journey can be the transforming help of others along the way. Therese prayed to receive a sign to know there was a conversion in Pranzini before the end. This prayer was answered as she heard that in the last hour, he asked for a Crucifix that he took into his hands and kissed…a remarkable sign of conversion.

We too must pray deeply for others and trust that our prayers are heard and being answered even if we do not always see or hear the signs of answered prayers such as Pranzini’s kiss upon the Cross.

At 5:50 a.m. we gathered downstairs in the lobby of the Hermitage; bags in hand, breakfast already had – thanks be to the staff who provided to-go breakfast bags – and awaited the bus driver. As we waited, we took last photos of Lisieux’s backdrop, the monastery, etc. Hard to believe we saw and did all that we did in just a few days. Somehow, it seemed longer as we breathed in St. Therese’s home one last time, for now….

The Lourdes apparition happened before Therese and the message, which is the same message of all of the Virgin Mother’s apparitions, is the message of transformation and the uniting of the hearts God’s people and conversion. Also, Fr. Kelvin drew the link of the Fatima message as well as Lourdes to the contemplative experience of Mary, Mother of Carmel. Mary stands as a disciple whose mission is to awaken humanity to God’s great love.

The last apparition to Bernadette at Lourdes was on July 16 th – which is also the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel – and Therese follows suit to Mary in her quest to convert sinners and expound of God’s great love for His people. So, from Lourdes to Fatima and the three children: Lucia, Francisco, and Jacinta we hear the same message to God’s people: pray and pray hard for the conversion of souls. The world is always at war.

It is said that at any time there are approximately 35 conflicts (wars) going on in the world. Our time is no different and with cultural shifts as they are and deep divides and confusion as to basic understandings of who and what we are as men and women – prayer and transformation is needed more than ever. We are to be that transforming instrument of God’s love. Even one person can be capable of bringing about this good; to transform and convert through living out our spiritual lives in accordance with God’s Will.

“if you wish to be a saint, it is not hard. Have one aim – to please Jesus and to unite yourself more intimately to Him”

Once landed in Lisbon airport after a very smooth flight over from Paris Orly Airport we had an unexpected wait at luggage as we awaited the driver. Never mind, we tended to personal business, sampled some tasty sandwiches near to the luggage ramps and then were finally off and onto a new motorcoach enroute to Marinha Grande, Portugal, just outside of Fatima. Along the way we got a chance to see some of Portugal’s beautiful landscapes including some very impressive windmills… and not just a few but lots of windmills amidst the thickly forested rolling hills before arriving at the Hotel Cristal where we will be lodged until Tuesday, May 14th. After a long day’s journey being fed by the gift of Holy Communion was such a blessing! This followed by a most magnificent feast of a buffet where one thing seemed better than the next. Oh…the treasures of our Lord. Tomorrow…Fatima!

Our day began as it ended last night – at a buffet feast for breakfast for the journey that lay ahead of us to Fatima. We were picked up by the driver and taken to the long-awaited ‘Shepherd’s Field.’

To prepare us for the day, Fr. Kelvin gave us a deeper dive along the way concerning St. Therese, most notable known as “The Little Flower,” and the connection with roses, beyond the beauty and fragrance; indeed, the mystery of roses and the rosary. Therese said, “My mission is about to begin…” to make mortals love Him as much as she and a reason for her ‘showering of roses’ promised…from heaven. The spiritual meaning is not unsimilar to St. John of the Cross wherein his saying ‘a thousand graces of God scattered and in one gaze cloth them in beauty’ and a reminder of God’s tender love for humanity.

In addition, that a rose is unique as each of God’s people are unique in their person and represent a garden of God. In this garden, Fr. Kelvin told us, is contained varieties of Flowers with the uniqueness of each person as a flower having its own uniqueness. To Therese, if every flower wanted to be a rose we would be deprived of spring beauty but put together we reflect the beauty of God.

Upon arriving at the village of the Fatima children and the Shepherd’s Field site we casually strolled down the main street and gazed upon the simple yet lovely stone homes, some preserved from the early 1900s and others now store fronts for souvenirs and/or food stops.

We first entered the home of Jacinta and Francisco and roamed about to see the main “living/dining rooms,” where they slept, ate and lived. We exited the back of the house and took a lovely group photo taken by a most generous pilgrim priest as we then strolled down to see the site where the Fatima children were given instruction by the Angel of Portugal in 1916 and then the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917.

A pair of the ‘Servants of Our Lady’ (this title may not be exact), were at the site and gave us a brief story of the Shepherd’s (children of Fatima) story. One of these two volunteers had been doing this service for 40 years while the other about 13 years.

Message of Fatima

A great call to holiness for the Church of our time through Prayer and

We walked back to our bus taking in the beauty of the countryside which included the living garden of God’s people there – in their simplicity and uniqueness – in the village of the Fatima children as we then headed back to the Shrine of Fatima – Santuario de Fatima.

Here we were amazed at the size, grandeur and wonderment of what exactly would take place here just hours from our arrival. After a quick understanding of the area, we departed in separate directions; some to the Basilica, others to restaurant and shopping along the main street(s) of Fatima.

Our group gathered again at 4 p.m. at the pre-designated spot under the giant Cross and strolled down towards the Basilica to witness the cast of a thousand in the Eucharistic Procession scheduled for 5:30. The procession was incredibly touching as Our Lord processed down the main lane and alongside us and up towards the steps of the Basilica where there was a beautiful Benediction.


After the procession we bused back to Marinha Grande hotel and feasted once more as we talked about the day’s journey…and much more and as we look forward to a good night’s sleep and day 2 of Fatima on the great solemnity of Our Lady of Fatima, 13th of May 1917.

We enjoyed another feast at breakfast this morning before heading off under an unusually overcast day for our pilgrimage since almost every day was picture perfect.

Anyway, it was good temperature and so we didn’t mind a bit of grey clouds as we bused back to the Santuario de Fatima just in time for Father Kelvin to get vested and participate as one of the over 400bpriests who were fortunate enough to concelebrate the Mass on the Solemnity of Our Lady of Fatima…May 13th.

Our group of eleven went hastily also to mix within the cast of thousands already gathered for Mass. The interesting thing is everyone there seemed to be of one mind in that no one was too bothered about the crowdedness and allowed for others to peacefully assemble.

The Mass began with a beautiful procession in with local and distant pilgrims and their unique banners, the priests and so many others followed of course by Our Lady of Fatima.

Just after Our Lady of Fatima statue began to process the sun began to peak through the clouds to warm the many and to let us know – it seemed – that both she and the Lord was with us. It was very moving as was the two and a half hour long Mass, plus some in order to regroup once again. Another impressive scene was the many, white-umbrellaed priests, nuns, and eucharistic ministers who would then most proficiently deliver Holy Communion to God’s people (in the thousands).

Everything after the Mass was anticlimactic but somehow remained afterwards in all we did; be that together or in small groups as we shared the experience, ate a good lunch; some even had very happy meals, and we had time to shop – our heart’s desire to hold on to and bring back – for ourselves and others – the absolutely breathtaking experience of the Lord’s Mass and Our Lady of the Rosary today.

At 3:00 p.m. we gathered, and Fr. Kelvin led the group down under the Sanctuary to the exhibitions. Especially loved by the group was the rosary exhibitions and of course the Blessed Sacrament and prayer. We think especially today of Our Lady of the Rosary and the good talk Father gave us yesterday about why the roses and the structure of the rosary.

Finally, we traveled back to Marinha Grande praying Vespers together and sitting in the still memorable day and its impact on our hearts and mind. Fr. Kelvin advised us of the schedule for the remainder of the evening and our last tour tomorrow at the Eucharistic Miracle of Santarem – an incredible story of a not-so-convinced Catholic woman, her husband, and a witch…

We said goodbye to Marinha Grande and the excellent lodging accommodation at Hotel Cristal and headed out towards St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Santarém where we are thrilled to see and hear about the incredible Eucharistic miracle, in fact some say among the most important of Eucharist miracles.

Fr. Kelvin gave us a good talk about the “yes” of Mary and how she teaches us by her yes four moments: devotion, adoration, meditation, and worship. Our Lady was and is the epitome of these characteristics.

Father then gave a brief history of the miracle at Santarem. According to chroniclers the miracle happened in the year 1247 when a poor woman whose unfaithful husband had troubled her greatly. She sought help from a sorceress who told her she could make a potion that would cure her problems, but she needed to bring her a consecrated eucharistic host in order to do so.

The woman went to the Church of Saint Stephen and obtained the consecrated host at Communion, carefully took it from her mouth and concealed it in her veil which she had on her person. She intended to bring to the sorceress. However, the Host began to bleed. People noticed and confronted her to know if she were somehow ill. She became frightened, and hurried home rather than going to the sorceress. Once home, she again hid the Host in a chest.

However, during the night an unusual bright light illuminated their home that came forth from the hidden host and there were angels singing and adoring the Host. Her husband inquired as to what was going on. She had to tell him everything. Then they sought the parish priest who came, inspected, and with other priests and led this miraculous and sacred bleeding Host back to the Church where it has remained to this day and continues to bleed at certain times.

For Catholics, of course, we witness a miracle in the consecration of the bread and wine every time we attend Mass but for any and all who might doubt the real presence of Jesus; His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharistic
Host, He who created all and Who loves all, provided then and now for the ‘Doubting Thomas’s’ throughout the ages a Host that reveals He is Living. Fortunate are we to have seen this miracle that we may spread word of this proof in the hope of dispelling doubts whether in ourselves and/or among the spheres of our influence that plague our times.

While we were unable to have Mass celebrated at St. Stephens, we were most fortunate to have been taken by the Deacon who led us behind the altar to actually – one by one – climb up the several wooden stairs to be within arm’s length of this Holy miracle!

We saw in the reliquary this miracle of the live blood which was analysed in 1996 by 3 atheist scientists which was ordered at the behest of our beloved Pope Saint John Paull II. It is said in the literature at St. Stephens that the scientists not only proved but certified that the blood is living blood and has the same DNA as the Blood of the Shroud and the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano (Italy). Interestingly, the blood changes colour and volume in winter and summer.

As we walked back towards our bus – thinking we could visit the house of the woman who stole the consecrated host; now a chapel of the miracle – we were told by the good people at what used to be the Capuchin monastery and now run by the Servants of Our Lady of Fatima (SNSF – Servas de Nossa Senhora de Fatima), that the house was closed unless someone from the Church escorted us. Time did not allow for this but instead we stayed with them and learned all about the inspiring good works of Luisa Andaluz and the mission to care for children all of ages but first began when babies were left with the Capuchin turnstile used for bringing sweets and foods for the religious but then was occasionally used to bring (for likely various reasons) unwanted babies.

We were given a most generous tour of the house and could see years of dedication and some of then most glorious statues of Our Lady and Our Lord and even our own Carmelite saints as it seems Luisa Andaluz was deeply tied to the Carmelites.

This tour and stop were completely unexpected
yet once again Our Lord provides for those who
seek Him. Even though we were unable to have a Mass at the Church, He led us to another very
beautiful work that was holy in the ordinariness of life, which tied beautifully to our themes on this retreat pilgrimage.

What a privilege to have witnessed the miracle at the Sanctuary of the Most Holy Miracle of Santarém as the last stop on this most blessed pilgrimage with St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face of Jesus…the “Little Flower,” and Our Lady along with the unexpected gift of the Capuchin house. With our most beloved Carmelite priest, Fr. Kelvin, our group travelled from London to Lisieux to Alencon to Fátima and Santarem and back again…We have come a long way in our spiritual journey and our hearts are full.

May God be truly praised.