JERUSALEM/BETHLEHEM – To mark the feast day of St Anthony of Padua, special patron and protector of the Custody of the Holy Land as well as patron saint of the Antonian Charitable Society, a home for the elderly located in Bethlehem, the faithful of the Holy Land attended several Masses and celebrations in Jerusalem, Jaffa and Bethlehem.
St Anthony of Padua was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal, in a noble family whose wealth allowed him to study at a time when illiteracy was common. At the age of fifteen, he joined the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross of Coimbra, a Catholic religious order that followed the Rule St Augustine. Soon attracted by the lifestyle of Franciscan friars, whom he met while in Coimbra, he decided to join them after learning of the death of five friars beheaded in Morocco for attempting to promote Christianity in the country. Inspired by their martyrdom, he joined a hermitage in Olivais and changed his name from Fernando to Anthony (a dedication to St Anthony the Great, an Egyptian monk). After brief stays in Morocco, Sicily, Tuscany, he ended up in Forli (Romagna), where, in 1222, he was asked to preach for a group of Dominican friars. Impressed by his eloquence and knowledge of the Scriptures, his congregation sent him to Romagna, where he met the founder of the order, Francis of Assisi. He then taught and preached, eventually becoming the Provincial superior of northern Italy and settling down in the city of Padua. He died of ergotism in 1231. Less than twelve months after his death, in 1232, he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. In 1946, because of his thorough study of the Scriptures, Pope Pius XII proclaimed him a "Doctor of the Church" and granted him the title of Doctor evangelicus.
In the Holy Land, St Anthony of Padua has a special importance: his simplicity and devotion to God made him a model of Franciscan life and spirituality. In 1920, Pope Benedict XV made him the patron saint of the Custody, after the Saint interceded for them during the Anglo-Turkish conflict in 1917: threatened with imprisonment, the Franciscans invoked St Anthony and were miraculously spared. Since then, the saint is celebrated annually on June 13th, during a Mass presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land – currently Fr. Francesco Patton.
This year, the Custos first celebrated, for the occasion, a Solemn Mass in Jaffa, as the Franciscan church there is named St Anthony's Church. Then, the next day, he presided over the traditional Mass, in St Savior (Jerusalem). “With his example, Anthony teaches us that we must be willing to risk our lives for peace,” Fr. Francesco said during the celebration, which was attended by His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Mgr Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, bishop emeritus, the Belgian general consul in Jerusalem, and representatives of the Coptic, Armenian and Syriac Catholic Churches, including Mgr Yacoub Ephrem Semaan. “On the Solemnity of our patron saint,” added the Custos, “let us ask that we may know how to become peacemakers too, to be witnesses of peace in the concrete events in which we find ourselves.”
Later, Patriarch Pizzaballa celebrated another Mass in Bethlehem, at the Antonian Charitable Society, which has been welcoming and caring for elderly women since 1913. Many prominent figures from the Bethlehem governorate and representatives of Christian Churches attended the celebration, during which the Patriarch insisted on the difference between knowledge ("scientia", meaning science) and wisdom ("sapientia", which refers to sapere - to taste). "Let us pray for St Anthony to intercede for us and to give us wisdom, in other words, to grant a taste, a flavor to our everyday lives."