Prison officer's powerful testimony on St Thérèse visit to Barlinnie

William McGurk might have thought he'd seen it all having worked four decades at HMP Barlinnie, one of the UK's most notorious jails.

But the experienced prison officer was taken aback by the visit of the holy relics of one of the Catholic Church's most famous saints - Thérèse of Lisieux.

"I thought that was very spiritually uplifting," he told Sancta Familia Media. "A lot of the prisoners were saying that as well."

He added "I've been here 44 years and I'm retiring next year. I was here when Nelson Mandela came in to see Abdelbaset Al-Megrahi, I've been here when Princess Anne came in and I've been here when First Ministers and MPs have come into the prison.

"But this surpasses anything like that."

Journalist and historian Tim Stanley was also at Barlinnie to witness the historic visit. He said: "It's a tremendous honour to be here today, both to be with the relics of St Thérèse but also to be with the prisoners, to be invited into their home really - that's what it feels like.

"It was a great honour to be amongst them and wonderful to see them taking part in the Mass, taking part in the Eucharist and one senses being healed by that."

Sarah Angus, head of offender outcomes at the prison, said: "Regardless of whether people were religious or not, it's such an event for Barlinnie, it literally must be once in a lifetime.

"There's something special about the story of St Thérèse which I've been learning so much about - her affinity with prisoners - and I think the thought of hope and change is something we very  much want to promote with the guys who are serving time with us."

Four days to go: thousands expected to venerate holy relics

Thousands of visitors are expected in Edinburgh this weekend for the visit of the relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux.

The relics of the French Carmelite nun are touring Scotland in what is believed to be the biggest religious event in the country since the visit of Pope Benedict in 2012.

Around 20,000 people were estimated to have attended events in the Diocese of Motherwell last weekend, celebrating the saint known affectionately as ‘The Little Flower’.

Archbishop Leo Cushley will welcome the relics to St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Broughton Place on Saturday evening at 7:30pm.

He said: “We’ve been awaiting the relics of the Little Flower with great anticipation.

“From the Carmelite sisters in Dysart, Fife, to people from parishes all over the archdiocese, there is much affection here for this extraordinary woman who, in so short a life, became a profound inspiration to many as well as a doctor of the church.

“We hope and pray for many blessings from the visit of her relics.”

Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin was born in Normandy, in 1873.  She entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux aged just 15 after petitioning both Pope Leo XIII and her own bishop.

She became known for her ‘Little Way’, emphasising simple obedience to everyday duties without complaining or criticising, and in doing everything as well as we possibly can.

She said that these acts of obedience, often involving sacrifice, are to be offered to God out of love to please him.

Thérèse believed special penances and heroic deeds are not necessary. What counts is to let ourselves be found by God and shaped by his totally gratuitous love for us.

Many cures are attributed to her and are documented in the Lisieux Carmel’s online archives.

The relics will remain in the cathedral until Monday and people are invited to file past the casket containing the bones of the saint. They may reverently touch the casket and bring to God, through the intercession of St Thérèse, whatever intentions they have.

Fr James Grant, General Secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland who has coordinated the visit said: “People today are fascinated by the idea of pilgrimage, of travelling to a holy place or site associated with a holy person.

“This once in a lifetime visit of the relics of Saint Therese to Scotland is a pilgrimage in reverse, where a holy person comes to us. We can expect many graces from this visit including healing, conversion and discovery of true vocation to God.”