IT’S COMFORTING, homey and – to almost all of us – undeniably titillating to the taste buds. But you might not know that the smell of freshly baked bread may also make us kinder to strangers. In fact, researchers have found that it triggers a positive mood that leads to a greater degree of altruism, or an unconditional concern for the welfare of others.

When I saw this piece of information in a newspaper, my mind was brought back the story of Ricky, a great devotee of St. Anthony who often comes to the Basilica despite his advanced age.

Long ago, when he was a 5-year-old boy, Ricky, the third child of a poor family of farmers, had come down with a bad case of the flu accompanied by a stubbornly high fever, severe coughing and difficulty in breathing. Fearing the worst, Adelina, Ricky’s mother, sent her eldest son to Dr. Volpe, the village doctor.

Feeling rather worried because Adelina was never overly apprehensive as a mother, the doctor got on his motorbike and made for the farm house at once. Upon entering the house, the doctor immediately sensed a pleasant smell – the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread. A diligent and highly conscientious man, Dr. Volpe, despite the gravity of the situation, uttered the following question, “Are you baking bread?” Adelina looked at the doctor with a puzzled expression, and then simply ushered him to the child’s room. Ricky, deathly pale, was lying motionless on his bed, breathing with difficulty. Dr. Volpe checked the child carefully and realised to his horror that the poor creature had double pneumonia, and that it was probably already too late to save him. The child had to be hospitalised at once, so the good doctor hopped on his motorbike and rode to the nearest telephone booth to call an ambulance, all the while feeling acutely embarrassed for his ill-timed question: “Are you baking bread?” How could any mother, desperately worried about her child’s life, be seriously thinking about baking bread?

The really strange thing, however, was that the smell of freshly baked bread was indeed present in that house, because Maria, a next-door neighbour who had come to help Ricky’s parents, exclaimed upon entering, “What a nice aroma of freshly baked bread!”

Was that a sign from heaven?

Now before all this had happened, in the early hours of the morning of that fateful day, Ricky’s parents, kneeling in front of a picture of St. Anthony hanging in their bedroom, had pled with the Saint to save their child’s life, promising to donate all their savings to St. Anthony’s Bread. And no one else knew of this vow except for the child’s parents, who now could also smell that delightful aroma.

Suddenly, a voice broke the silence and startled the group. “Mummy, can I have some orange juice?” It was Ricky, who seemed to have just woken up from a long, long sleep.

The child drank the fresh, clouded glass of juice with great eagerness and satisfaction, but at that point the smell of freshly baked bread was so intense that everyone, even the ambulance doctor and the paramedics who had just arrived, could smell it. The ambulance doctor, however, was quite annoyed, and said, “This time Dr. Volpe has exaggerated the gravity of the situation and has called us for nothing; the child doesn’t even have a fever. Next time I see him he owes me a beer at the pub!”

At this point Adelina burst into tears and ran into her bedroom, leaving everyone confused. In actual fact, her tears were tears of joy. She knelt down in front of the picture of St. Anthony to thank him for his miraculous intercession on their behalf.

From that moment onwards, the smell of bread has accompanied Ricky’s life, and every time he comes to the Basilica to thank his dear friend, Saint Anthony, he feels obliged to tell his story, adding, “nowadays, whenever I pass a bakery or my wife puts the basket of bread on the table, that wonderful, fresh baked smell still brings back the memory of that morning when I woke up and smelled that delightful aroma.”

Every June, on the occasion of the Saint’s Feast Day, St. Anthony’s Charities points out to you, dear readers, the most demanding project of the year, inviting you to participate in its realisation. If you wish to make an offering in thanksgiving for blessings received, you may send your donation. Please see our article on p. 15 and the back cover.

A blessed Feast of St. Anthony, dear readers.


Updated on October 06 2016