When Pope Francis made a surprise stop at a cloistered monastery Sunday morning, he received a gift from the nuns who live there: a large bouquet of white roses.

But was there more to this gesture than meets the eye?

A year ago when Pope Francis travelled to the Philippines, he revealed that before each trip or when he has a concern, he asks for a rose from Saint Therese of Lisieux. He has a special devotion for the saint.

“When I don’t know how things are going to go, I have the custom of asking Saint Therese of the Child Jesus to take the problem into her hands and send me a rose,” the pontiff explained to journalists in January 2015.

There’s a special story behind the roses he received in Mexico.

His visit to the monastery was not on the agenda, and the nuns there were not expecting him. The visit’s organizers gave just a few minutes’ notice to the nuns of the Visitation Order of Holy Mary. They did not know that he would stop to greet them as he passed by their convent on his way to Ecatepec.

There are 50 nuns of various ages who live at the monastery. The last time they left the monastery was to vote in the Mexican general elections. In 2002, when Saint John Paul II visited the country, he passed by the monastery as well but he did not stop. The nuns thought that the same thing would happen again.

“It was really something exceptional because we never leave the cloister,” one of the nuns told CNA by phone. She requested anonymity out of respect for the cloister.

“It was a very great grace to have the pope’s visit at our monastery door. The people told us that he had left the nunciature. They let us know he would be coming down the street and the security staff told us that if we would like to, we should open the doors just in case.”

The nun continued, explaining that the community “had not prepared anything for greeting the Pope. One of the people who comes to daily Mass brought us white roses that day. People are always coming to give us things, and we were going to place them before Our Lord.”

“At that moment, our mother superior just happened to have those roses in her hand, and when there she was right in front of the Pope, she just spontaneously gave them to him.”  

El #PapaEnMex detiene el papamóvil para recibir un ramo de rosas blancas de manos de estas religiosas https://t.co/hftFpvdu30

— ACI Prensa (@aciprensa) February 14, 2016

The religious did not know about the story of the Pope and the roses of Saint Therese of Lisieux. They were surprised to hear of it.

The Pope spent several minutes greeting all the religious.  

“He told the mother superior that it was a great blessing that we were giving our lives (to God) and praying for the Church and for him,” the nun reported.

Pope Francis blessed the most elderly sisters. Then he went up to the novices.

“He told them to learn from the older ones and to be faithful. Then he told us not to forget to pray for him and he gave us his blessing,” the nun told CNA.

She sees the providential encounter with the Pope as a confirmation of her vocation.

“It’s worth it to sacrifice your life, not to be involved in the things of the world, to sacrifice yourself in the cloister. The Pope stopped to see us, he invited us to value our lives, our tradition as contemplative nuns. He exhorted us to be faithful.”

She said the Pope’s unexpected visit “obliges us much more to pray, to be constant in our prayer.” She said it encouraged the nuns to give themselves “day after day, in our hidden life so the Church may have life and bless our Holy Father.”

There are 90 Visitation monasteries in the whole world, with eight convents in Mexico. Or all the cloistered religious in the country, their order has the most novices.

“When the pope left, we returned to our cloister and gathered together to sing a Te Deum in thanksgiving for this visit. We prayed a Salve Regina for the pope’s visit to Mexico. We sang a Magnificat for the blessing this means for our order, and even though he came to just this monastery, the blessing is for all of our communities.”

The order of the Visitation of Holy Mary is a religious institute of contemplative life founded by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane Francis de Chantal in 1610 in France.