Saint Anthony, herald of peace and fraternity

13 June is the feast day of St Anthony of Padua, one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church, patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land and the Saint who gives his name to many provinces of the Order of Friars Minor. Anthony – who in former times was called Fernando Bulhões – was originally from Portugal, was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died in Padua when he was only 36 years old.

In the early morning of 13 June, Minister General Br Massimo Fusarelli presided over Mass for the feast of St Anthony in the basilica of St Anthony in Afragola. In the Italian municipality, a metropolitan suburb of Naples, there is a shrine dedicated to St Anthony of Padua, whose local cult dates back to the early 1600s. In 1636, the land was bought, and the first friars minor lived there. Legend has it that the Afragolese, frightened by the tremendous eruption of the nearby volcano Vesuvius, turned to Saint Anthony in December 1631. Vesuvius ceased its activity, and from then on, the Afragolese remained devoted to the Saint of Padua.

In the homily of the Mass, celebrated at 6.30 a.m. – after a night of prayer and the transitus of the Saint -, the Minister General emphasised the words peace and reconciliation: “We know well how urgent they are at this time in the world because of war,” he said, “first of all the one in Ukraine, due to a cowardly aggression, and also because of so many other wars that are taking place on the planet, often forgotten”. According to the Minister, it is easy to find the inspiration for this theme in St Anthony. When the young monk Ferdinand became a friar minor, he was struck by the example of the first Franciscan martyrs in Morocco, who let themselves be killed for Christ. “If terrible violence overwhelmed them, they responded with meekness and passionate love for Christ,” continued the Minister General. “And here was the transformation of Anthony, who could not follow them in martyrdom but would be a herald of peace and fraternity.

It is precisely in this that Anthony gets to the heart of the Gospel as St Francis heard it and lived it: “Peace and the proclamation of peace are the fruit of the mercy that the Lord uses towards us through the lepers of all times, the little ones and the poor, and through that first poor person who for each of us remains himself”. According to Br Massimo the Christian does not reduce peace to a good feeling, to a value to be exercised, but peace is “the gift that God the Father gives to us in the Spirit of Christ the Saviour”, and this is why Anthony, when speaking of peace, does not start from the outside, but from the inside: ” Br Anthony takes us to the deepest human and evangelical core,” said the Minister, “if you want to change the world, begin to change yourself; if you want to bring peace to others, begin to heal the violence that is within you and that every day expresses itself in so many small ways that you often do not even realise”. Br Massimo spoke of the violence we exercise through the uncontrolled use of words that offend, humiliate, and devalue others, but also of many other types of violence that the chronicle delivers to us with sad repetition.

“We do not give ourselves peace; we receive it,” said the Minister General. “Anthony knew well that only the Lord comes at the deep root of the heart, and confession is the place where we can break pride, that is, the self-sufficiency of our ego, and open ourselves to forgiveness given and received”. Anthony of Padua, therefore, invites us to work for peace and justice, starting with each one of us: “Anthony struggled so much in the few years of his preaching for reconciliation in the cities he visited and for justice towards the poor,” said Br Massimo. He did not achieve great results humanly speaking, at least if we think of the lasting ones, but he left his mark. He made us see an alternative humanity, different from the Gospel. So even today, in situations of war, we need not stop at sociological analyses and the like, but to go to the heart, begin with our conversion and announce to all that peace is a greater gift”.

The Minister General then entrusted to St Anthony “the prayer for peace in Ukraine, in many regions of the world, in us and among us, even in the Church, even in our communities”.