On 12th June, solemn vespers, presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, fr. Francesco Patton, marked the start of the celebrations in honour of St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint and protector of the Custody, linked to the Franciscans of the Holy Land by a special bond for over 100 years.
It was in 1917 that the triduum in honour of the great Portuguese saint was proclaimed, to ask for his intervention against the threat of the expulsion of the Franciscan friars of Italian origin from Jerusalem. St Anthony protected the order and, on 13th June 1920, before the altar of the saint, he was officially chosen as the patron saint of the Custody.
There is always very great and sincere participation by parishioners, faithful, religious and pilgrims on this day of celebration.
During the first vespers, recited in St Saviour’s church in Jerusalem, the Custos recalled the meaning of the gesture of the distribution of St Anthony’s bread, which is traditionally carried out at the end of the celebration of the vigil. Bread symbolizes, on the one hand, the gift of asking God and on the other that of sharing with others, i.e. “that of charity, the ability to live gratuitously. This is bread, in other words food. that first of all we received as a gift from God. In the second place, this gift must be shared in such a way that we can truly love God above everything else and our neighbour as ourselves” (the homily in full is here).
On 13th June, the Saint’s feast day, before the solemn liturgy, some children from the parish, dressed in small Franciscan habits, were blessed by fr. Amjad Sabbara: their parents asked for St Anthony’s special protection for them.
The Patriarch of the Latins, His Beatitude Pierbattista Pizzaballa and the representatives of the main Christian communities of the Holy Land (the Greek Orthodox, the Armenians, the Copts, the Syrians and the Romanians), invited as every year by the Custody to share the joy of the feast-day of the patron saint, were also present at the eucharistic celebration, again presided by the Custos of the Holy Land.
“Anthony was a great searcher of divine wisdom: he sought the meaning of life tirelessly in the light of the Word of God,” said the Father Custos of the Holy Land in his homily. “This attitude of continuously searching, this restlessness that characterizes the whole of Anthony’s short life, is highly provocative for us, because it asks us a very direct and personal question: “In what are you looking for the meaning of life?” For Anthony the meaning of life is all in the relationship with Jesus Christ, in accepting and living the Word of the Gospel, in reaching such a degree of essentialism that nothing superfluous, superficial or transitory is sought for. For Anthony, the meaning of life is giving oneself completely, because this is what Jesus Christ did and taught, this is what leads to the knowledge of divine wisdom.”
At the end of the Mass, the Custos of the Holy Land pronounced, together with the whole of the assembly, the prayer of consecration of the Custody to St Anthony in front of the statue of the Saint.
Lastly, in the afternoon, the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, gathered once again in St Saviour’s church for the prayer of the second Vespers, with which the feast-day came to an end.