Today we were blessed to spend a day in Venice. We first visited San Rocco Church, which is staffed by our friars. We also took a boat tour around some of the 100 islands that make up this magical city.
We soaked in the day amid the news that one of our friars was today named a bishop by Pope Francis! Bishop-elected John Stowe will shepherd the Diocese of Lexington, KY. For the last five years he has served as my Vicar Provincial and also as Rector of the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation. While he has been a true brother to me and will be greatly missed, he will be a wonderful bishop.
Bishop John grew up at St Anthony Parish in Lorain, OH. Certainly, St Anthony has a deep connection to us all–and a long reach.
At the Basilica of St. Anthony
Our pilgrimage along the “last walk” of St Anthony finally brought us to the Basilica!
Before arriving here we stopped to visit a ministry the friars in Padua have done for 60 years. They have a residence for 15 mentally challenged adults. These residents spend three days a week there to give their families a respite and to allow these adults to learn skills and to be with peers. Across the campus there is also a business where 50 mentally challenged adults come during the day to do productive and meaningful work. We had an opportunity to meet some of these warm-hearted people, who have a fond affection for St. Anthony.
Once we arrived at the Basilica we met the local friars and toured the grounds and buildings, leading up to a formal tour of the Basilica. Our guide, Fr. Mario Conte, gave us wonderful insights into the many paintings, fresco and side chapels, especially the altar dedicated to St. Anthony. Visiting the tomb, as you can imagine, was quite moving.
Later I had the great honor of celebrating Mass at the high altar in the Basilica and lifting your many needs to the Great Saint. At the end of Mass I was privileged to take your petitions to the back of the tomb and, as is the custom, placed my hand on the tomb itself and prayed. A further honor was bestowed by then placing the petitions in front of the altar of St Anthony where the friars were going to leave them all night.
More than four million pilgrims journey here to the Basilica every year to pray for healing and hope, for faith and fortitude, to sustain them (and us) on our “walk” to the Lord, under the guidance of St Anthony.
Much of these last two days I have been in meetings with an Association that promotes St. Anthony throughout the US. As Minister Provincial, I serve on its Board, along with other Franciscans from the US and Italy. We usually meet in the States but every ten years or so come to Padua to visit all the holy sites and to meet with the our Italian confreres.
Tomorrow we will spend the day at the Basilica of St. Anthony in nearby Padua. We have been staying at a retreat center that is about 30 minutes from the Basilica.
Yesterday I read through the 350 petition cards I have brought with me from the US. It has been a real honor to reflect on your needs as it will be to take these to the tomb of the Great Saint. So many of these petitions express similar sentiments: for health and well being, for a return to the church or faith, for stable jobs, for deceased family and friends, in thanksgiving, for healthy marriages, for those struggling with addictions, to name but a few. While there are many commonalities, all of these petitions are experiences that are felt very personally and quite deeply by each of you, as well as by of loving, merciful Father and the Great Saint himself, St. Anthony.
I received an email yesterday asking me to pray for a 5th grader who was having a brain tumor removed. I have now learned the surgery lasted more than twelve hours and they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. Praise God!
Part Two of the Camino of St Anthony
Today we journeyed to Arcella the place where St. Anthony died at age 36. There is a beautiful church on the site, which also serves as parish. Behind the main altar is a small sanctuary on the very spot where the great saint died. Many pilgrims visit it, whether following Anthony’s “last walk” or simply to come and pray in silence.
Every June 12, the vigil of his death, there is a large procession throughout area where the statue of the deceased Anthony is carried on a cart drawn by oxen. Thousands of faithful line the streets to pay homage and pray.
I had the privilege of concelebrating Mass here on Sunday. I offered Mass for you and all your petitions I had brought with me from the US. It was a very moving experience, filled with grace and the spirit of one of the giants in the Franciscan order.
Greetings from Italy! Friars from the US, Scotland and Italy have arrived for both our meetings and visits to some of the holy sites of St. Anthony.
We are staying at Santuari Antoniani, The Sanctuary of St Anthony, a retreat house the friars have in the area. It is the first of three sites of St. Anthony’s “last walk.” This is the camino (or path) he took leading up to his death and eternal life with God. The “walk” begins here, then moves on to Arcella where he died, June 13, 1231, and then onto Padua where he was eventually laid to rest. The journey covers about 15 miles, and many pilgrims still walk, bicycle or drive the route today.
There are two important events that happened here at Santuari Antoniani. First, St. Anthony had his famous vision of the infant Jesus. This is celebrated by a series of beautiful sculptures and a fresco above the main church door. This is also the site where he one day preached to thousands of people and had to climb a walnut tree to be heard.
There were numerous retreatants here when we arrived as well as many pilgrims who had come to pray and take in the ambiance of this holy place.