St. Teresa of the Andes lived only 19 years and spent a scant 11 months in a Carmelite monastery. However, on March 21, 1993, Pope John Paul II canonized this young woman, making her the first Chilean saint and the only Carmelite of the Americas to be so honored.
How is it possible that a teenager, who spent so little time as a religious, not only became a saint, but a saint with thousands of devotees, who make a grueling 17-mile pilgrimage every year to her grave?
Discover the answer to these and many other questions when EWTN premieres a one-hour original documentary on the life and mission of Juanita Fernandez Solar, also known as “St. Teresa of the Andes.” The program, produced by Journalist Magdalena Ossandon of Santiago, Chile, airs at 8 p.m. ET, Friday, Nov. 8, but early birds can also view it at midnight ET, Sunday, Nov. 3 and 3 a.m. ET, Tuesday, Nov. 11.
The first half of the documentary takes viewers on a tour of all the important places from little Juanita’s family, educational and religious lives. But it is in the second half of the documentary that we really begin to learn about the depth of her spirituality, which gives us a clue as to why the saint is so popular, especially with the young.
Probably the most startling assertion comes from Fr. Alain-Marie de Lassus of the Congregation of St. John, author of the Spanish work, “Dieu est joie infinie : Etude sur sainte Thérèse des Andes.” He says he believes that St. Teresa of the Andes is the only saint ever to declare that “God is infinite joy.” As he notes in the documentary, that claim is not even made in the Bible!
Fr. de Lassus believes that Jesus stole little Juanita’s heart during her First Communion. The documentary talks about that day and about the young girl’s joyful demeanor even in the midst of deprivation and sickness. Although she had a short life, Teresa endured much suffering, getting seriously ill every Sept. 8, Our Lady’s birthday!
Mother Angelica would have loved this documentary because it is very even-handed. On the plus side, we learn that even as a pretty young girl, Juanita cared deeply for others, and spent her time trying to catechize and help the young, the old, and everyone in between. However, she had much to overcome. In addition to all her many virtues, the documentary points out that the child was vain, impetuous, and selfish; she liked to be first in everything. In other words, she was normal.
However, once Teresa understood that God loved her, we are told that she gave all of herself to Him. “He who loves doesn’t have any other will except that of the Beloved,” she wrote. “Love is the bond of union between two souls. For love, I will fuse myself with Jesus.”
At the age of only 15, Juanita asked herself what she had done to please her Creator. She wrote: “I’d prefer to die rather than commit sin.”
She suffered much when she left her family for Carmel. Her father visited her only once while she was there. But she threw herself into the life of a Carmelite. As the documentary states, Carmelite novices only left their cells for choir, recreation or other novitiate exercises. But it was in her confinement that Teresa found complete freedom.
Teresa explained it like this: “A Carmelite ascends to Calvary and sacrifices herself for souls. She dies to herself and to the world. She buries herself, and her sepulcher is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From there, she resurrects. She is reborn and lives spiritually united to the whole world.”
Teresa was a joy to all in the monastery. Yet she was humble, volunteering to do all of the lowest duties, one of which would result in her death. In fact, after 10 months in the monastery, Teresa told her superior that she would die in a month, and her death at that time was quite dramatic.
Tune into this wonderful documentary to find out what happened and to learn more about why this saint is so revered, not only by thousands of young people in Chile – who make the pilgrimage to her grave every year – but, as a canonized saint, by Catholics around the world.