Your friend, Saint Anthony of Padua

In Photo: Saint Anthony of Padua’s gold statue, which has a layer of his face’s skin, with Rev. Fr. Leopoldo Tumulak as the presiding priest of the welcome Mass of the relic at the Shrine of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus.

Story & photos by Stephanie Tumampos | Special to the BusinessMirror

‘HE is a friend.” This is what many people would say in describing Saint Anthony of Padua. For most devotees, he is considered part of their families.

Devotees and the public touching the relics of Saint Anthony of Padua.
Devotees and the public touching the relics of Saint Anthony of Padua.

This year the friendly saint’s relics are in the Philippines for a pilgrimage transferring from one church to another in many areas in Luzon and the Visayas from April 20 until May 2. The pilgrimage opened with a morning Mass at the Shrine of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus in Pasay City on April 20.

The pilgrimage of Saint Anthony’s relics started in 1995. In that year, the Franciscans decided that the best celebration of the saint’s birth is to travel the holy relics to many parts of the world. “We decided to do it as an exceptional thing to celebrate because the year 1995 is the 800th anniversary of Saint Anthony’s birth,” Fr. Mario Conte, a Franciscan friar from the Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua in Italy, told the BusinessMirror in an interview at the Shrine of Saint Therese.

“We started in Lisbon, Portugal,” Conte said. He is also the traveling companion of Saint Anthony in the pilgrimage. The relics include a golden statue of Saint Anthony that has a layer of skin from the saint’s face and his “floating rib.”

“All ribs are connected to the sternum, but the lowest [two pairs] are not connected to the sternum, and are called floating ribs,” Conte explained. In 1996 the friars of the Conventual Franciscans in the Philippines brought the relics for the first time on Philippine soil.

“It has been 20 years already and the demand of many Filipinos made us decide that we should come back this year,” Bro. Andrew Datoy, a Filipino Franciscan, told the BusinessMirror.

Conte acknowledged the presence of Filipinos all over the world. “I go from time to time around the world with the relics of Saint Anthony, and I’ve met many, many Filipinos living in many parts of the world,” Conte said. He added that the Filipinos’ constant query when the relics would be brought to the Philippines made them decide that it was time to return.

Saint Anthony’s life to preaching

Saint Anthony was born from a wealthy family. His father, Vicente Martins, was a captain in the royal army of Portugal.

At a young age of 15, he entered the Congregation Canons Regular of Saint Augustine. He devoted himself in studying and preaching the word of the Lord in the monastery in Coimbra in Portugal. He journeyed from Coimbra to Morocco, to Sicily and then to Assisi. Throughout his travels he found peace.

“But God’s plans are better, he was inspired to be a Franciscan,” Datoy said. “[Saint Anthony] was inspired to be a martyr of the Franciscans after knowing about the first five martyrs of the Franciscan order.”

The five martyrs were Berard of Carbio, Peter, Otho, Accursius and Adjutus who never denounced their faith in the hands of the king of Morocco. Anthony did not become a preacher right away. He first immersed in priestly service to the community. He also helped in chores, such as cooking and cleaning.

One day, when he was invited to come to the ordination of priests in the city of Forb, a certain mishap happened. “The preacher in charge did not arrive,” Datoy said.

Anthony’s superior, Graziano, called him and told him to preach. “There he preached and he preached eloquently with passion. He was able to touch the hearts of people and those around him,” Datoy added. This was the first known record of Saint Anthony preaching and eventually made him known to many people.

“He was the first theology teacher of the Franciscans, because he was also a theologian during his Agustinian days,” Conte said.

On lost things and miracles

Saint Anthony is known today as the patron saint of lost things. It was said this started when he had an experience where his Gospel book was stolen by one friar.

“In the old days, there are no printing presses, hence, a record of anything written is of value,” Datoy said.

Anthony was dismayed and prayed to the Lord that he may be able to find the book or it may be returned. “It was returned to him and the friar who stole it also was converted. That’s where it started.”

While he may be the patron saint of lost things, the Franciscan brothers and friars want to share to the world that he is a “miracle worker.” Accounts from many people are testimonies that miracles were granted through his help.

Conte recalled to the BusinessMirror that there was a couple who visited the tomb of Saint Anthony in Padua. The couple was devastated after learning that the child in the womb of the mother was not moving anymore. “The doctors thought it was a hopeless case, because [the fetus] was already declared dead. But the couple rode a train to Padua and visited the saint’s tomb and fervently prayed. At that moment of prayer, the mother felt her womb moving again,” Conte said.  There were many more miracles that happened through Saint Anthony, but Conte wanted to remind the faithful that miracles are not performed by saints.

“Only God performs miracles,” Conte emphasized, “but saints are in a special place.” He said saints are very close to God and that he could imagine Saint Anthony pulling God’s sleeve to help those who are in need every time Anthony hears prayers of people.

Saint Anthony’s presence and significance in modern era

The faith of today’s generation has been shaken or weakened. Saint Anthony wants to inform the millennials that we are all God’s children. “Anthony wants to assure you that he is your friend and he is close to you, and he really wants you to know that God loves you,” Conte said.

Datoy added, “The message is to rely and be confident of the love of God to all of us, and to show that we have to also respect the truth and abide by the truth.” This was among Saint Anthony’s preachings, he said.

Datoy also mentioned about the current issues in Philippine society. “Saint Anthony brings conversion to the people. In today’s election, there’s a lot of things happening. He wants to talk about the scriptures and the consequences corruption can do.” Datoy added that there is true progress when people love each other and do away with corruption.

The relics are of great significance in this age, but one must have to understand what they mean. According to Conte, relics are symbols of connection to saints or God.

“We are humans and we need physical connection [to saints or to God],” Conte explained to the faithful at the Shrine of Saint Therese.

Conte also recalled a message by Pope Emeritus, Pope Benedict XVI, about relics. Quoting the pope, Conte said: “In allowing people to venerate the relics of saints, the church does not forget, that in the end, they are just human bones. But they are the bones touched by the living power of God, by the love of God.”

Saint Anthony became a saint by the order of Pope Gregory IX 11 months after his death at a young age of 36, because of his impact toward the people he served. After many centuries, Saint Anthony is here as a friend the people could count on. Asked why people pray and ask Saint Anthony’s help for favors and wishes to God, Conte said: “It’s not magic and it doesn’t have any sparks. But simply, it just works.”

Image credits: Stephanie Tumampos


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