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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

St. Anthony of Padua - The Saint the World Loves

Pilgrims praying at the tomb of St. Anthony Saint Anthony is the most well-known and loved saint in the world. Millions of pilgrims and faithful, from all round the world, visit his Basilica in Padua every year. There isn't a church in the world which doesn't have an altar, painting, statue, fresco, or niche dedicated to St. Anthony, not to mention the countless little statues and small holy pictures in people's homes.

Many associations in the world have been founded and operate in the name of Saint Anthony, and express his charitable presence. For centuries, millions of people across the world have revealed themselves to be devoted to St. Anthony with a love and veneration which is never diminished or obscured.

Why is this affection, this love, so strong, wide-spread and spontaneous? What is the secret of this affectionate and faithful trust in St. Anthony? What are the characteristics of this special relationship?

The faithful recognise St. Anthony for what he has always does for them. Above all, he is a confidential listener. He is the intercessor of the poor, and enters into a dialogue with whoever needs to share physical or spiritual suffering. Many do not even know where he was born, they know nothing about his life or his teaching, but they have experienced him as a protector and a benefactor in their lives.

St. Anthony is a companion in our daily lives. He is not only a giver of graces and favours to whom we turn when we are in need. He is an older brother, a best friend, always ready and willing to help others, whatever their problems, big or small.

The faithful ask him for light in their existence. They ask him to help those who are lost, to console those who suffer, to assist the poor and forgotten.

They recognise and love him with the lily (the purity and transparency of life), with the baby Jesus (sign of tender and freely-given love), and the book (the Word of God).

The faithful feel that Saint Anthony is an intercessor and benefactor in the name of God. St. Anthony is the face of the caring goodness of God, who reveals Himself, and becomes a concrete and tangible reality. St. Anthony is thought of as a merciful and delicate call to conversion and to penitence.
Trevisan, St. Anthony dying
Love expressed in devotion

As well as personal prayers, devotion to St. Anthony has manifested itself over the centuries in several different ways which are still in use today and which we will briefly examine.

The hand on the Tomb
This is the most characteristic gesture of pilgrims to the Basilica of St. Anthony.

As well as expressing the desire for concrete contact with the Saint, this is a gesture of faith and trust, accompanied by a silent heartfelt prayer.

Attention is focused on the Saint, not so much by means statues or other images which can be found throughout the basilica, but rather by his tomb.

The Tredicina
This term refers to the thirteen days of preparation for the feast of St. Anthony which is on the 13 June. The Tredicina is still celebrated at the Basilica as well as at other shrines dedicated to St. Anthony and in many Franciscan churches and private homes.
This term also signifies a prayer which is articulated in thirteen parts, which like an invocation focuses on the most significant aspects of the life and holiness of Anthony, alternating them with the most common prayers of Christian devotion.

The Transit
Once celebrated with many and varied prayers and chants, the transit is still a striking ceremony. It recalls the last moments of St. Anthony's earthly life: arriving closer to death, he asked to be carried on a carriage driven by oxen from Camposampiero to Padua, where he wanted to die. Having reached Arcella he was forced to stop and there he died serenely, comforted by the vision of Jesus.

He died on Friday 13 June 1231, at dusk. It is for this reason that the friars of the Basilica commemorate the moment of transit every Friday night, with a simple but moving ceremony.

The "Si quaeris"
These are the first words in Latin (translated: If you seek) with which perhaps the most well-known prayer in honour of St. Anthony begins. It is thus sought after by the many faithful who come to the Basilica, and therefore can be found in many pamphlets and prayer books, as well as here. Set to music by famous composers who were organists or choir masters at the Basilica, the text dates back to Fr. Giuliano da Spira who composed it in 1235, as the responsory of the Rhythmic Office (now called the Liturgy of the hours) for the feast of Saint Anthony. It is called responsorial (from the Latin respondère, meaning to answer) in that the soloist proclaims or sings a text, and the choir responds using the same expressions or words of a similar content.

The entrusting of children

Pilgrims in the Basilica during the feast of Saint Anthony Saint Anthony was particularly fond of children. Among his miracles, whilst he was alive, more than one involved children.
It is for this reason that there is the widespread tradition of placing children under his protection right from birth.

From this custom followed the tradition of dressing children in a little Franciscan habit to thank the Saint for his protection and to make it known to other.

Blessing of objects
In the Chapel of Blessings, the faithful love to have their personal objects blessed.

Beyond the inevitable exaggeration, you mustn't underestimate the need for concreteness in popular devotion and the painful experiences that urge many faithful to seek these blessings. Often religious objects are blessed, objects which the faithful want to take home as a long-lasting and visible remembrance of the encounter with grace in the Basilica; or which are to be given to loved ones in order to offer them the protection of the Saint. Sometimes the faithful bring photos of family members who were dramatically stricken by illness or whose lives are falling apart; occasionally they bring an item of clothing, some food or drink to take to someone who is fighting to stay alive.

The motives for these humble gestures of supplication are never completely revealed, not even to the priest. The value of faith is certainly too vibrant and pressing not to induce pilgrims to disregard the numerous forms of frivolity and their normal routine.

The bread of Saint Anthony
In some Franciscan churches or, those which are particularly linked to Saint Anthony, on his feast day (13 June) it is common to bless bread, which is then handed out to the faithful and eaten as a sign of devotion. In some countries it is the faithful who take the initiative.

Such devotion certainly derives from the programme "bread of the poor" which in the past was very common in churches. Today, near the Basilica, Saint Anthony's Charities and the bread of Saint Anthony, two humanitarian organisations, give aid in a material way to the needy.

The accentuated and complex phenomenon of charity which revolves around the Basilica depends on the generosity of pilgrims who leave offerings to help the poor. However this is merely a continuation of the long-standing tradition of giving back to St. Anthony what has been received in the form of graces, assistance and favours granted, much like the mother who, having seen her child cured at the hands of St. Anthony, decided for a certain period of time to offer her child's weight in bread to the monastery so that it could be distributed to mothers in need..

Messages of supplication to Saint Anthony
Many devoted write to Saint Anthony. "When you go to the Tomb of Saint Anthony you will have a lot to say. You cannot say it all as there isn't time. There are lots of people who like you have lots of things to confide to him. You would like however to leave him something of your own, something that can remain there in your place, something for him to remember you by, in order to prolong a dialogue which time and haste interrupt too soon."

Leaving a note, a prayer, a petition or a message for St Anthony is a sign of devotion on the part of the faithful. These are messages which demonstrate a close and spontaneous relationship unrestricted by language or nationality.

At the entrance to the Basilica the faithful can find special cards on which they can write to St. Anthony telling him what is in their hearts. Once written, these card are placed at St. Anthony's tomb. It is a very personal sign which remains there next to St. Anthony almost as if he guards the thoughts of the faithful, prolonging the time spent together, thoughts which they nevertheless carry home with them, after having shared and entrusted them to St. Anthony.

You can also bring a postcard to someone who was unable to come to the Basilica, especially those who are lonely or ill. 

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