A centuries-old story connects the Custody of the Holy Land with St Anthony of Padua: the intercession of the Saint has always been fundamental for the life of the Franciscans of the Holy Land. In 1920 Pope Benedict XV proclaimed St Anthony the patron saint of the Custody and this recognition officially sealed the already strong bond of the Custody with the Saint from Padua. Today, 13th June, the feast day of the Saint, is a day of great celebrations in the Franciscan convent in Jerusalem. This year, at the Holy Mass in St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem, there were several religious and civil authorities: the representatives of the main Christian communities of the Holy Land, as well as diplomats, including the Consul General of Italy in Jerusalem, Giuseppe Fedele.
“Today we are celebrating the feast day of St Anthony with joy and solemnity, that the liturgy presents to us as an eminent preacher and intercessor in times of need,” said the Custos of the Holy Land in his homily. “During this past very difficult year of the pandemic and tensions, we friars of the Custody have felt in particular very powerfully the intercession of St Anthony, to whom we entrusted ourselves in a very special way.”
The patron saint of the Custody, according to the Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton, is a fine example of what it means to embody the missionary mandate which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go out into the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Anthony, after having dedicated many years to learning and studying the Holy Scripture, was to devote the last six years of his life to announcing the Gospel to all, including to every creature. “Anthony invites us to propose the Christian faith and the mystery of Jesus Christ in its entirety, in its organicity , in its fullness,” explained Fr. Patton. “Anthony also adds the aspect of the personal quality of testimony.” The Saint from Padua is not only a preacher, however, but also an intercessor in the needs and requirements and in this as well he embodies very well the mission given by Jesus to the Apostles to chase away the demons and lay hands on the sick.
“Through the intercession of St Anthony, let us ask the Lord to enable us to welcome the Gospel in its fullness, without cuts and without additions, without wanting to empty it of its provocative radicalism and without wanting to dilute it to be fashionable,” concluded Fr. Francesco Patton (the complete homily is here).
At the end of the Mass, the Custos of the Holy Land pronounced, as he does every year, in front of the statue of the Saint, the prayer of consecration of the Custody to St Anthony.
Unlike last year when there were still restrictions in force due to the pandemic, this year the parishioners, who are particularly devoted to St Anthony, were also able to take part. Two children from the parish were also blessed by the priest and their parents asked for the protection of St Anthony: as a symbol of the vow expressed by their parents they will wear a small Franciscan habit, the same as St Anthony, for one year.
In the afternoon of 13 June, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land assembled again in St Saviour’s church for Vespers.
“The feast day of our patron saint must stimulate us and inspire us to imitate him,” said the Custos of the Holy Land to the friars. In particular, Fr. Patton dwelled on two aspects highlighted by St Anthony in his Sermons: the importance of gathering closely around Jesus Christ and the importance of gathering closely around our brothers in difficulty.
The Custos then added: “Through the intercession of St Anthony our Patron Saint, may the Lord grant to each of us the ability to fly with Christ, always keeping him at the centre of our personal and fraternal life. He was the first to take flight towards us, becoming one of us. And we try to fly towards him, the subsequent flight, the flight upwards, which is what we are committed to in following in the steps of Our Lord Jesus Christ, living in obedience, without anything of our own and in chastity as we promised. May the Lord grant us also how to fly downwards, to lift up the brother who has fallen, in his vocation or in the crisis, or who is living with less dedication his commitment to a Christian. May the Lord give us the grace to be able to look after one another, to be able to look after the weak and the wounded in our fraternity.”
In memory of the charity of the Saint towards the poor, the feast day came to a close with the distribution of St Anthony’s bread.