Pilgrim Relics: St. Therese visits ‘Godless’ UPLB

''Love proves itself by deeds, as how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and world, and the doing of the least actions for love.'' -- St. Therese

Home to agnostics. Free thinkers. Atheists. A Godless institution.

These counted among the mistaken notions which the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), formerly UP College of Agriculture, had to endure from 1908 to 1989. All this despite the presence of some God-loving parishioners.

In the mid-1920s, St. Therese started ''scattering flowers (love/miracles)'' on the campus peopled by career-driven students and top-notch professors, mostly Americans. Through ''every little sacrifice'' of the youthful saint, her love started to score miracles. One, some students and young academics who had to negotiate the 2.5 km dirt road on foot from the campus to the town proper to attend Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church, petitioned the church authorities to build a chapel outside the perimeter fence of the University. Two, the petition was granted. Three, the new chapel was called St. Therese of the Child Jesus Parish (STCJP). Four, STCJP became the unofficial university chapel. Five, despite the still ongoing misconception of UPLB as a ''Godless'' institution, St. Therese, in her little way, continued to transform the hearts of men and women, many of whom were by then enjoying national and international renown.

The old chapel, constructed in 1927, had a seating capacity of 120 people. But St. Therese, whom Pius X said was ''the greatest saint of modern times,'' continued to work miracles in her little way. The parishioners increased in number. And so a big church (seating capacity: 1,500) was built and blessed in 1971. Little by little, the number of students increased, just as other professors became atheists. Fact is, there were many students, Catholics and non-Catholics, who stopped attending Masses or their respective services because their philosophy professors were persuasive in proving the non-existence of God.

But St. Therese continued in her ''little sacrifice (s)'' beyond the ''Godless'' professors' ability to comprehend or dispute.

Leap of faith

The parishioners' devotion to St. Therese took an incredible leap of faith, a ''miracle of conversion'' in the third quarter of 1989 when an incredible miracle happened. The very first Marriage Encounter Weekend was held on the UPLB campus, by the Bukas-Loob sa Diyos Covenant Community, led by the charismatic priest, the late Fr. Pascual ''Ado'' Adorable, SJ. Among the 25 couples were then Chancellor & Mrs. Raul P. de Guzman; the then UP Faculty Regent Ruben B. Aspiras and his wife Lee; world-renowned scientists; humanists; medical and dental practitioners; writers; and the former atheists. Several professors and admin staff joined other charismatic communities, like Couples for Christ. Students joined various Church-mandated organizations. The Knights of Columbus Council No. 5377, became very active and an organization to reckon with by reason of its yearly programs and activities. Equally active were the ladies belonging to the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (DMI), and the Catholic Women's League (CWL). Membership in the other orgs/guilds increased exponentially-all proofs that the love of St. Therese was being proven by the deeds she was scoring through the parishioners.

Today, UPLB is a ''Godless institution'' no more, thanks to St. Therese for ''doing ... the least actions for love.''

BIG miracle

But this is not all. A BIG and unprecedented miracle is slated on UPLB campus, particularly, and in the STCJP and Los Baños, generally, on Jan. 31- Feb. 2.

On the occasion of the 3rd Pilgrim Relics of St. Therese in the Philippines, the relics of the ''youngest doctor of the Church'' will enter the UPLB campus, make stopovers in nearby subdivisions, and be finally enthroned in STCJP. Proper and solemn ceremonies will mark this event.

Program

Following is the program in a nutshell. Jan. 31: Motorcade from Camp Eldridge to STCJP. A welcome Mass will be presided by Bishop Bernard C. Cortez, DD, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Manila, and former STCJP priest. Veneration of the relics will follow until 12 midnight. (Another miracle: the Pilgrim Relics were allowed to enter the nonsectarian UPLB campus by Chancellor Rex Victor Cruz, a reformed Baptist).

Feb. 1: Asalto to St. Therese at 4-4:30 am. Concelebrated Mass, with Bishop Leo M. Drona, DD, as main presider, with Diocesan priests concelebrating, 5:30 pm. Hourly prayers by various groups until 10 pm.

Feb. 2: Asalto to St. Therese, 4-4:30am. Farewell Mass at 6 am, to be presided by Rev. Fr. Luis A. Tolentino, the new STCJP priest. (During the Mass, the ''St. Therese Visits a Family'' Program will formally end. The 54 recipient families will return the 54 statues of St. Therese, for the next parish program, like the fiesta in her honor. Or when STCJP will hopefully be consecrated as a shrine. That is an anticipated major miracle).

What are relics?

In ''Therese and Her Little Way: A Primer in the Occasion of the Visit of Her Relics to the Philippines'' in 2000, the question above was answered, thus: ''They are the material remains of saint(s) or holy person(s) after death, as well as objects sanctified by contact with (their) bod(ies)....''

Why venerate the relics of St. Therese?

The ''Primer'' answers: ''In the light of the centenary of the death of St. Therese, the Church of Lisieux willed to create a movement around the relics of St. Therese as it happened previously in 1947.... God who had received from her so many acts of love when she was alive here on earth, is pleased to manifest his love through the remains of her humanity ....''

Physical attributes

Based on her photos, the eyes of St. Therese (she was christened Marie Francoise Therese Martin, pronounced mhar-TAN), glow at the prospect of finally meeting her Maker at age 24. And her lips are ready to say her last five words: ''My God, I love you.''

Her statues have captured these physical attributes loaded with theological impacts.