Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 13: Feast of St. Anthony of Padua… and Lisbon!

In medieval times, it was not uncommon to designate a saint by the place where they were born into eternal life, rather than their actual birthplace. Hence, Saint Anthony (1195-1235) , who died in his adopted city of Padua, will be forever connected with that place in the minds and hearts of devotees. Except for the people of Portugal, that is. They understand that, despite the residence of the major part of his relics in Italy, Anthony was, is, and will forever remain their hometown boy made good: Anthony of Lisbon! In honor of their saint, the people of Lisbon have constructed a relatively small, but no less imposing Baroque sanctuary in honor of St. Anthony, placed within close proximity to the city’s (XIIc) cathedral. Adjacent to the sanctuary is a recently opened museum and exhibition space. An imposing contemporary cast statue of St. Anthony is placed in front of the entrance, but the real treasures of the shrine lie within its basement. Several narrow flights down into the crypt, one approaches the tiny and cramped chapel marking the birthplace of this remarkable saint. The actual relics on display are few, but that is of scant importance to the throngs of pilgrims, many of them older women from Portugal, Spain, and Italy, who throng by the busload to the site to pray for the saint’s intercession. The sanctuary is currently maintained by a trio of Portuguese friars who live in a small convent located in an upper story above the actual church. I spoke with one of the friars, Fray Albertin, who welcomed me warmly to the site. We chatted a bit about the situation of the Franciscan order in Portugal today. It certainly appeared to be very much like that in North America: willing friars, burdensome commitments, shrinking numbers, aging confreres, and few vocations. Still, places like this sanctuary of St. Anthony, continue to thrive. Secular Franciscans operate the gift shop and other lay volunteers assist visiting pilgrims. The friars on hand make themselves available to show hospitality and offer a listening heart. St. Anthony of Lisbon is famously known for his ability to help one in finding lost articles: “Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and must be found.” Unfortunately, he has not yet protected visitors from the swarms of professional pickpockets who lie in wait at the tram stop in front of the shrine. The gentleman with whom I was visiting had his wallet snatched within seconds. That said, in regard to his shrine in Lisbon, he has certainly been doing his job, however. In the sanctuary of St. Anthony of Lisbon, the ‘lost’ among us continue to ‘find’ welcome, hospitality, and help in his hometown.

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