St Anthony: the patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land

The celebrations for the solemnity of St Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of the Custody of the Holy Land, were held on Thursday 13th June at the church of St Saviour in Jerusalem.

St Anthony is a recurring figure in the devotion of the Universal Church, especially in the countries where the Franciscans of the Holy Land are present. Thanks to this continuous popular devotion, St Anthony was officially named Patron Saint and Protector of the Custody of the Holy land on 28th July 1929.
The Custodial Vicar, Fr. DobromirJazstal, was the first to recall the importance of this figure in the Custody, during the celebrations of the first Vespers on Wednesday 12th June which he presided. The Vicar emphasized the ancient roots of the Custody’s devotion to St Anthony which is connected in particular to two events. 

The first dates back to the British-Turkish war in 1917, during which the Governor Jamal Pasha decided to imprison the Franciscans, leaving the holy places abandoned. In this particular situation, the Franciscans prayed fervently to the saint, urged on by Fr. Eutimio Castellani, the Custodial President (who replaced the Custos, absent in that period). The chronicles of the Custody relate that on the morning of the third day, the Latin Patriarch of the time went to the Pasha to ask  for grace for his Auxiliary, who was very ill but, to his surprise, he also obtained it for the Italian Franciscan priests and religious.

The second event was in November 1917 when the Franciscans again risked imprisonment but, after invoking the Saint, they received a telegram from Constantinople which gave them the right to stay  in the Holy Land. Immediately after the First World War, on the proposal of Fr. Castellani, and under the responsibility of the Custody of the time, Fr. Ferdinando Diotallevi, Pope Benedict XV confirmed and declared St Anthony of Padua the Patron Saint of the Custody so that since1929 this feast-day has become a Solemnity throughout the Custody of the Holy Land.

The solemn Celebration of the Eucharist on the day of the Solemnity, 13th June, was celebrated by the Custos of the Holy Land, Fr. Francesco Patton, with a great participation. 
Fr. Patton, during his homily, highlighted the ability of the Saint to influence all those he met on his path: from the simple folk he found in the town squares to the clergy and the prelates, but also Pope Gregory IX was very impressed by his conversation with the Saint. The miracle-working Saint, said the Custos, “lives the Gospel, invites us to base our lives on the Gospel and although his life was short, he is still an example for us to welcome the Gospel.”

In conclusion, as every year, the Custody of the Holy Land has been entrusted to St Anthony so that he can look after and protect it.

Giovanni Malaspina