La Croix: Every two years, UNESCO honors a personality who promoted universal values such as education, culture, science, peace, the condition of women… Why did you support the candidacy of Therese of Lisieux?
Nicole Ameline: Thérèse was a woman of culture, education and peace. His work resonates with the Declaration of Human Rights, the seventy-fifth anniversary of which we are also celebrating this year. The 193 member states of the UN voted unanimously for it. They have gotten into the habit of celebrating women who, through their journey, can help us find answers to today’s questions. Thérèse has a real capacity to bring people together, to unite, she is a strong female figure… This is why her recognition by UNESCO is very important for me.
You were Minister of Parity and Professional Equality. What kind of woman does this young 19th century nun represent to you?
N. M. : She’s a revolutionary. She has extraordinary strength of soul and will. She fought to enter Carmel at a very young age, she knew how to impose her choices on those around her and her thoughts on the world. To the religious world, of course, by opening a new spiritual and theological path which has had a very strong impact on Christianity. But beyond that, she is a woman of peace who also speaks to non-believers. She considered the world with an exemplary sense of otherness and respect for others. It is a symbol of openness and dialogue.
Without being a feminist, Thérèse is in line with the sustainable development goals of the UN, which is currently working on the articulation of law and religions. We do not oppose the two, we consider that we must consolidate interreligious dialogue, as well as reflection on the place and role of women in contemporary societies and in religions.
In this respect, Thérèse is an example that guides us. Pope John Paul II said of her that she is a “witness of the future”. She is a reference that we need, she is not a prisoner of her century. She gives us a lesson in trust and peace. She is a humanist, her thinking goes beyond the framework of faith.
Why do you think she is so loved and revered around the world?
N. M. : For his way, I believe, of initiating a reconciliation with his own weaknesses while overcoming them. In her works, she answers many questions that we can ask ourselves on a personal level, because she has gone through a lot of ordeals.
She also reflects on her time which, like ours, was very turbulent. She knew how to cultivate, through her vision of the world, a capacity for confidence which is lacking today. It thus carries a universal and timeless message of openness.
Do you have a personal attachment to Thérèse of Lisieux?
N. M. : I was born in the Pays d’Auge, where she is particularly venerated. Many Norman families devoted their young children to Thérèse, that is to say, put them under her protection. For the inhabitants of this region, she is very familiar, she is at the same time a sister, a guide, a friend, even if they have immense respect for her.
Personally, I had a great, quite unexpected adventure with her, working to present her to UNESCO. I am very comfortable with this humanist and daring personality. And very happy that UNESCO has distinguished this woman who contributed to changing the world with her lesson of love and trust.