I FIRST became acquainted with Dr. Gianfranco Recher after one of the Masses in the Basilica, and we eventually became friends. We used to meet about once a week to talk about spirituality, but also about our work and family matters, as friends do. He practiced at a hospital in Vicenza, a very picturesque town not far from Padua. He specialized in treating people who, due to throat cancer, had had their larynx removed. Through a small valve and a special technique he had learned in the States, he was able to help these people speak again.

His patients looked up to him as the man who had saved them from a life of social isolation, and they loved him from the bottom of their hearts. I saw this with my own eyes when I went to visit him at work one day. He had invited me to his ward because he knew that I smoked, and I can tell you that after that visit, after seeing all those people without a larynx trying desperately to speak, I quit smoking at once!

I told him as much when he came to see me a few days afterwards: “You know what, Gianfranco, I will be grateful to you my whole life for having made me quit smoking. I tried to do it many times before, but my old habit always got the better of me in the end. You’ve worked a ‘little miracle!’”

The good doctor smiled, but I could see that something was troubling him. “I’m very happy to hear that,” he said, “but there is something that I have to tell you. Three months ago I was diagnosed with lung cancer. They will operate me in a few days, but I don’t believe the operation will be successful. I am a doctor, and I understand my situation very well. I will not live much longer. I am not afraid of death because I am a man of great faith, but I am worried about my wife and my son, who is only 11 years old. I pray to the Lord that he may assist them.” I hugged him with tears in my eyes.

After the operation he came to see me a few times, at least as long as his strength allowed him. We used to talk about what it would be like to meet God. Slowly, slowly, his whole inner life was becoming increasingly focused on the afterlife. A few months later he departed from this world peacefully, in the presence of his loving wife and son.

In my room I still keep his picture in a frame and, when during Mass I remember our dearly departed, I always recall him along with my parents, my brother, and all those people who loved me. I know that they are up there looking after me.

We should never remember our departed loved ones as people we have lost forever, as persons who have nothing more to do with our daily lives and trials. On the contrary, we should feel their supportive presence and love. We should consider them to be invisible companions who care deeply about us and accompany us in good times and bad. The wonderful reality of the ‘Communion of Saints’ which we recall every time we recite the Apostle’s Creed, tells us that there is an intimate, spiritual connection between us, who must still pass through that dark door which leads into God’s celestial light, and our dear ones who are already living in that light. From that realm they can intercede for us and invoke God’s mercy on us. We, in our turn, can offer them great assistance by praying for them.

In actual fact, prayer is love, for when we pray we are sharing our life and love with others. We believe that our love is stronger than death, and so we continue to pray for and with those people who have died until we will be together once again in heaven. Our prayers are thus a profession of faith in the afterlife, and especially in love.

In this month of November we, the friars of the Basilica of St. Anthony, will remain true to our centuries-old commitment to Saint Anthony’s worldwide family of remembering all our deceased members and your departed loved ones by celebrating a special Mass for them at the Basilica on November 2 at 8.15 am (CET). The Mass, which can be seen live on our website (www.saintanthonyofpadua.net), will be presided over by our General Director, Fr. Giancarlo Zamengo. As always, all the prayer intentions and the names of your missing loved ones you send to us will be placed in front of St. Anthony’s Tomb during that Mass.

Let’s thank the Lord for his love for our deceased brothers and sisters, and let’s take what is good from their lives as an example of how we can share our faith with others.

Friar Mario

Updated on November 07 2016