Shanna Riley February 21st, 2008
In the small, unassuming town of Eunice, Louisiana in Acadia Parish, rests a brave, little girl that triumphed over the cancer that took her life by using her suffering to end that of others'.
Though you may have not heard of Charlene Marie Richard or her sacred and oft-visited grave in Saint Edwards Catholic Church Cemetery in Eunice, the twelve year-old cancer victim is more than just a local celebrity - an appeal for her canonization has been sent to the Pope in 2006 by the Friends of Charlene Association.
The fact that such an association even exists should give you some idea just how important this young woman - known as the "Little Cajun Saint" - is to thousands of believers around the world.
Charlene was born on January 13, 1947 to Joseph Elvin and Mary Alice Richard in Acadia Parish. In 1959, her young life was cut short by acute lymphatic leukemia only a few days after she was diagnosed with it. The poor child suffered for thirteen days at the Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Lafayette, Louisiana in agonizing pain. At the suggestion of the hospital chaplain, Father Joseph Brennan, Charlene made the decision to "offer her pain for others". It was simply another way the remarkable young girl faced a slow, painful death with love, acceptance, and tranquility with a maturity and serenity beyond her years.
Always a pious child, Charlene was comfortable with her dying and going to be with God. She passed peacefully on August 11, 1959.
Since Charlene's death, a number of miracles have been reported by those praying for the intercession of Charlene Richard, and by praying at and leaving tokens or written petitions at her grave. People the world over are convinced that Charlene was a saint, and that her tomb - and any relics related to her - are sacred.
Next to her grave is a wooden, altar rail, a sun-bleached white church pew, and a plastic box with a lifting lid for petitioners to leave notes, prayers, and requests for Charlene. The grave is constantly cluttered with rosaries, fresh flowers, and small candles. A cement statue of the Virgin Mary looks down upon it all. (Click here for an excellent photograph of Charlene's grave).
The process of canonization takes years to complete, and though Charlene is not yet a recognized saint by the Roman Catholic Church's standards, her holy status is unquestioned in the minds of her fans and followers. Her grave has become a mecca for those seeking a miracle cure for terminal illness for themselves and loved ones, and people, literally the world over, have made the pilgrimage to her final resting place.
Charlene's grave has become more than just a tomb for her final remains; it has become an object of love, hope, and devotion for hundreds - the holy holding ground of a true saint and a tangible mark of the Almighty.