Seven-year-old Carmen has an extraordinary story. Because of her Blessed Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin, the parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, were canonized on Sunday in Saint Peter’s Square.
The little girl was born prematurely in Spain in 2008 at just six months into pregnancy. She was fighting for her life for several weeks because of a cerebral hemorrhage and other severe ailments. But her loved ones and many Carmelite sisters sought the miraculous intervention of the Martins. The Vatican recognized the baby’s healing as miraculous.
“We’re just another family who received this miracle with open arms, as you’d expect. But we and Carmen are normal people like anybody else,” Santos said.
The baby Carmen is now seven years old.
“Our daughter was born at hardly six months gestation, after a pregnancy with many complications, and her organs were very underdeveloped. Complications set in right away: cerebral hemorrhage, bacterial infection … her situation was getting worse to the point we were extremely worried,” Santos explained.
Both parents were both going through “a terrible situation.”
“For some parents dealing with such a dramatic situation it would stir up feelings of helplessness, grief, guilt and despair…on top of that we had a five year old son and we were trying to keep this situation from affecting him,” Santos said.
The doctors told them to prepare for the worst. Every day had major significance.
“Carmen was getting worse and worse,” her father said. She was so weak that for 35 days her parents could not even so much as touch their daughter in order to avoid infecting her.
“The doctors thought there was no longer anything more they could do for her and after that they let us touch her,” Santos and Carmen said, adding “during this whole process we never lost faith, we clung to our faith and it helped us very much.”
“For us faith is the foundation of our family, and as they say: without faith, there is no hope.”
Little Carmen was born on the feast day of Saint Teresa of Avila, so her parents sought out a monastery or church connected with the saint.
“We saw our answer come to us through prayer. Carmen was still alive—even though she was still very sick—so we were determined to look for a place even harder,” Santos said. “So I searched on Google for some place to pray to Saint Teresa and right away popped up the monastery of Saint Joseph and Saint Teresa in the town of Serra in Valencia Province.”
“I went there one afternoon, but I got there almost at night and I couldn’t get in because it was closed. So I told one of the Carmelite sisters on the intercom what was going on with Carmen and she told me they would pray.”
The sister also told Santos that he could come there Sunday for Mass.
“We were going to Mass there, we were praying and we would quickly turn around because we needed to get back to see our daughter since the hospital was 25 miles away.”
After four or five Sundays, the Carmelite sisters became close to the parents of the sick baby. This was how the parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux came fully into their lives.
Louis Martin and Zelie Guerin married in 1858 just three months after they met. They lived in celibacy for nearly a year, but went on to have nine children. Four died in infancy, while the remaining five daughters entered religious life.
The Martins were known for living an exemplary life of holiness of prayer, fasting and charity. The couple frequently visited the elderly and invited poor people to dine with them in their home. Their daughter, St. Terese of Lisieux, became a Carmelite nun known as the Little Flower. She authored the deeply influential spiritual autobiography “Story of a Soul.” She was canonized in 1925 and named a Doctor of the Church in 1997.
The canonization cause for another of their daughters, Leonia Martin, opened in 2015. The Martins were beatified in 2008.
“Saint Therese’s parents were beatified on October 19, four days before Carmen was born,” Santos said.
The Carmelite sisters gave little Carmen’s parents some pictures of the Martins, a prayer and a short biography of the married couple.
“The prioress told us that perhaps these blesseds, who had miraculously cured a child, could also help us,” Santos said.
“That very same night we began to pray to them,” he said. Other sisters in other convents also joined in prayer for the suffering baby.
“Beginning the next day there were a series of changes and Carmen’s state,” the girl’s father said.
The next day Carmen was transferred to another hospital and she began to recuperate noticeably. She began to breathe without a machine and her infections began to subside. On the third day she left the intensive care unit, though it took several years to know whether she suffered side-effects from the hemorrhage.
Carmen was finally released from the hospital on Jan. 2, 2009 the same day as the birthday of Saint Therese of Lisieux. Fifteen days later, the relics of Blessed Louis and Zelie came to Lerida, Spain. The Carmelite sisters encouraged the family to go.
There, they met the postulator for the Martins’ cause for Sainthood and explained their daughter’s healing. The postulator pursued the case, and the investigation for the Martins’ possible canonization began in November 2009.
It was not until March 2015 that investigators approved Carmen’s miracle that would raise the Martins to the altars. The family received the news on March 18 during the popular Fallas de Valencia festival.
“Our whole family was going down San Vicente Street in Valencia right in the middle of the Offering of Flowers to the Virgin of the Defenseless to give her our bouquet. All of a sudden our cell phone went off and, after six years, they gave us the big news.”
“It was a very special and moving moment, it couldn’t have been at any other time, just when we were at the feet of the Virgin,” Santos recalled with great emotion.
Baby Carmen’s parents have told her everything about how she was healed, adapted for her age.
“For us it was always a miracle, and even more when we could see she was responding to everything and recuperating,” her parents said. “It’s different to experience something like this than when somebody tells you about it. When it happens to you, your faith is reaffirmed.”
Carmen’s parents said they were already strong believers before the miracle, but now they practice their faith more.
The whole family will witness the canonization along with family and friends. They are “a little nervous and anxious” as they await the ceremony. But they also have “a lot of joy.”
This is the first time the Church canonized a married couple at the same ceremony.