Every year on 13th June there is a great celebration at St Saviour’s Convent in Jerusalem, the heart of the Franciscans of the Holy Land: St Anthony of Padua, patron saint of the Custody, is celebrated. Trusting in the Saint has always been a constant in Franciscan history, but it was not until 1920 that Pope Benedict XV proclaimed him the patron saint of the Custody. Exactly one hundred years later, the solemnity started with the First Vespers on 12th June, presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton.
In his homily, the Custos wanted to share some of St Anthony’s reflections on the Body and the Blood of the Lord, considering that the feast of Corpus Christi fell in the same week. “Receiving the Body and the Blood of the Lord is to receive the greatest gift there is, the one capable of transforming our person and our existence,” said Fr. Patton. “So let us be spurred on by Anthony to once again put Jesus in the centre of our lives to live an authentically Eucharistic life in which the gift received makes us capable of giving ourselves, the forgiveness received transforms us into apostles of mercy and reconciliation and the love experienced and received makes us at last capable of making our lives a song and an act of love.”
One important moment was that of the distribution of St Anthony’s bread, as tradition has it, in memory of the Saint’s charity towards the poor and needy.
“Today we are celebrating, despite the pandemic, the feast day of St Anthony of Padua with joy and solemnity. He was proclaimed patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land exactly 100 years ago, by the Custos Ferdinando Diotallevi with the approval of the Discretorium, on 12th June 1920”. This way Fr. Francesco Patton recalled in his homily the Solemn Mass of 13th June, celebrated in St Saviour’s church, exactly where the Custody was consecrated to St Anthony. When the friars invoked the protection of the Saint, the times were difficult, “the very survival of the Custody was at risk,” said the Custos, “but from then on there was a new flourishing shown by the rebuilding of many of the Shrines we look after and the creation of a prestigious institution like the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum at the Flagellation and the foundation of the magazine of the Holy Land. One hundred years later, we are still here saying thank you to St Anthony who continues to intercede on our behalf with the “Almighty, the Omnipotent and the Good Lord” and to be an instrument of the protection of the Lord over the Custody.”
Fr. Patton emphasized how the pandemic still under way has not reaped any victims among the friars of the Custody and has to a great extent also spared the populations in whose service they are. “At the beginning of March I had invited all the friars of the Custody to recite every day the prayer to St Anthony that we recite on the renewal of the vow, adapted to the current pandemic,” he continued. “It is not a superstitious and naïve act, nor is it anachronistic devotion from outside time, but an act of faith in the communion of the saints, it is the expression of an awareness that the saints, as the preface of 1st November reminds us, are given to us as friends and role models.”
There is also widespread devotion to St Anthony amongst the parishioners of St Saviour, so much so that every year on this feast day the children of the parish, wearing a small Franciscan habit, the vow of their parents, are blessed. The same habit will then be given to another child to wear for the whole of the following year. This year, this small rite did not take place as usual, but the prayer of the Custody was as usual for all the people who meet the friars in their ministry and who trust in the intercession of the Saint. At the end of the Mass, the Custos said the prayer of consecration of the Custody to St Anthony in front of the saint’s statue.
The feast day of St Anthony is also very important for the parish of St Anthony in Jaffa, where it was celebrated on the afternoon of 13th June with a mass in the open air, on the esplanade in front of the church. The liturgy was presided by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, in the presence of the parish priest Fr. Augustin Pelayo Fregoso and the different parishioners: Arabs, Indians, Filipinos, Africans, Latin Americans and Poles, who all came together in the joy of celebrating St Anthony.