God & I: Fr. Antonio Ramina

February 07 2022 | by

COULD you tell us something about your childhood and the most important people in your religious formation?

My childhood was very serene, spent in the countryside with my large family. I was the second of six children, and we received what you could call a ‘traditional’ religious education. I grew up in an ordinary setting whereby faith was transmitted through a serious and committed life. I was also very lucky, throughout my childhood and afterwards, to have had very good and passionate parish priests, and catechists who really believed in what they did and who gave it their all. As well as doing good and useful things, they bore witness to the beauty of their faith and to their belief in a community of belonging. Basically, it was a parish life in which the good leaven of the Second Vatican Council was spread.


When did you conceive the idea of following in the footsteps of St. Francis by becoming a Conventual Franciscan friar?

I had just finished university and was teaching literature. The school I taught in was close to a church and a friary where our Conventual Franciscan friars lived at the time. Going into the splendid medieval church of San Lorenzo in Vicenza and talking to them awoke in me a desire that I had carried inside of me for years. So began a series of meetings with other friars who, step by step, allowed me to express more clearly many unspoken, almost dormant desires. I remember those years with great joy, and carry with me gratitude towards those unpretentious, practical, and profound friars.


How did your family and friends react to the news that you wanted to become a Franciscan friar?

I didn’t come across any obstacles in my family, only surprise on the part of my parents who had not expected such a decision. My father was immediately happy, my mother less so because my vocation meant leaving the family home, and so she was feeling the weight of our imminent separation. As far as my friends were concerned, I have to say that almost everyone was encouraging; even those who did not feel close to faith showed admiration for a choice which was perceived to be outside the norm. I think the positive and attractive image that the Franciscans usually have helped a lot.


What was your first assignment after solemn profession and ordination to the priesthood? And what did you learn there?

Initially, for around six years, I was vice Rector to our young friars preparing their solemn profession. For the next ten years I held the role of Rector within the same context of training to religious life. In these years I was able to practice listening patiently and at length. I’d like to say that circumstances trained me to wait, to trust in people regardless of the results which are often not immediately apparent. I learnt to accompany and walk in uncertainty, knowing that it was the Lord lighting the way. I can’t forget, however, another lesson I was able to learn: the role of trainer, one cannot work alone. However, I was fortunate enough to carry out this service alongside other friars, with whom I had fruitful daily discussions. Sharing with others the commitment to a service is one of the greatest and most productive experiences one can have.  


Vocations to the religious life and the priesthood have been diminishing for many years now. In your opinion what are the primary causes of this phenomenon? And what can we do to promote vocations?

I believe a vocation requires the capacity to respond. But to respond appropriately and not impulsively you have to know how to stop and go deeply into yourself; you must place faith in something that cannot immediately be seen. Maybe you just have an intuition, but this must be interpreted carefully and calmly. Within a context whereby we are always rushing, and certainties are required instantly, it is difficult to give credit to a vocation. I would say that the first thing to do is to try to transmit the “art of the useless,” which means experiencing the beauty of what is free, like music, art and, above all, friendship. The reasons behind the decline in religious vocations, furthermore, should also be looked for in the quality of our own lives, which are not always that coherent and captivating. The main way to encourage religious vocations is to bear witness to the beauty of this life choice.


Who is God for you? How would you describe Him?

If I had to choose a kind of definition, I would say that God is “Reliable Goodness”; that His way of working is that of a Lord who always gives time and ways to return to Him and discover Him as a friendly presence; that he looks at everyone with boundless fondness. I like to think of God as the Lord with a thousand names, in the sense that He is recognized from different perspectives according to how we experience Him in the changing situations of life. As Saint Francis said in one of his songs, the Lord can be beauty, or protector, or wealth, or comforter, or sweetness…


People who are in love desire to have an intense relationship with the beloved. How do you cultivate a deeper relationship with God?

The first way is through prayer, understood not so much as mechanically repeating formulae, but as willingness to inhabit ‘uncontaminated spaces’, in which one stops in order to cultivate a ‘one to one’ gaze with the Lord and listen to His word. Sometimes prayer can be misunderstood and mistaken for ‘an escape from reality’, as a fruitless waste of time. Instead, my experience tells me that prayer deepens the roots of our relationship with God, which otherwise dries up without our even noticing it. The other way to keep the relationship with the Lord alive is to meet people: I am convinced that the Lord comes to meet us through those who cross our paths unexpectedly and ask us new questions.


When talking to God, have you ever felt a breakdown in communication? That nobody was at the other end?

I had this sensation when my sister was ill; she passed away in 2010. On one hand I didn’t feel any kind of presence, any sign of consolation. As if there was no light beyond the tunnel. When I talked to others about God, I sometimes had the feeling I was talking about a stranger. On the other hand, however, I also felt a reason to hope, to move forward without letting myself be caught up in sadness and emptiness. If I think about it now, I have the clear sensation this was God’s work, this ‘being in His presence as if He weren’t there.’


You are the Rector of the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua, Italy, a world-famous shrine. What do you consider to be your primary task in the assignment you have been given?

My first job is to act as a ‘bridge’ so that, as much as possible, the many people and activities that revolve around the Basilica can come together in as harmonious a way as possible. The Basilica’s situation is complex, and it is important to arrange things in such a way that dialogue and discussion can take place. It’s not always easy; a lot of energy is dedicated to keeping and maintaining relationships, to encouraging and comforting, sometimes mending fractures. The most important jobs, sometimes, are those that in the short term seem least productive.


St. Anthony died almost 800 years ago, yet millions of people continue to come to his shrine here in Padua. Why is this Saint still so appealing to people?

When we talk about Saint Anthony, we often have the impression that we are ‘coming up against’ a wall of silence, as Anthony is a silent and discreet figure. But it is precisely for this reason that he is able to talk to everyone. His silence is not emptiness; it expresses the willingness to receive anyone and to show everyone a way of hope, a light in which we can believe, a reason to start again. Perhaps the image of this young man who often has a baby in his arms also helps. It transmits the true and reassuring image of the Lord; a Lord who desires to be received and taken into one’s arms. Pope Francis often talks of ‘saints next door’, referring to the faith life of many down-to-earth people who live their relationship with God and with others seriously. Anthony of Padua, so famous and so well-loved, is everyone’s ‘saint next door’: he has a good word for everyone; he has good bread to offer anyone who hungers for meaning in their lives.


Among the many stories that pilgrims have told you, is there one that has struck you particularly?

I remember a man who could not stop crying while he was near the Tomb of Saint Anthony because he said he could feel his presence so strongly. His were tears of gratitude. He told me how he had felt the Saint to be close during the illness of someone he loved. When that person passed away, he understood that Saint Anthony helped him to feel the deceased’s presence close to him. I know that there are many stories even more unusual than this one, but the deep and emotional gaze of this man transmitted to me the force of a strange serenity, as if his eyes were a window to Heaven.  


St. Anthony has been called The Saint of Miracles. Do you believe that miracles actually happen?

I believe without a doubt that they happen. Moreover, it is precisely the less sensational miracles, those which could be mistaken for pure chance, that strike me the most. Harmony rediscovered between two people could be an example. Making peace with someone, in itself, is nothing extraordinary, however, we know that it can be extremely difficult to reestablish a relationship believed to be lost forever. Traditionally, Saint Anthony is the saint of lost things. The most precious thing that needs finding is often a certain relationship that we are tempted to let go, through laziness or fear. I like to think of Saint Anthony as a saint of ‘relationships’. Often he tried to exert all his influence so that harmony could return between groups of people. Anthony firmly believed that the most beautiful fruit of the Gospel was the harmony of hearts, the solidity of relationships between people who learn to welcome and forgive each other.


Which of the many teachings left by St. Anthony do you think is most relevant to today’s world?

The first that comes to mind is resoluteness in behaving in an honest and open way, even when it seems as though such behavior might cost us too much. Integrity and transparency, in the here and now, don’t pay; they seem like the attitudes of naïve, idealistic people. Anthony taught us to ‘resist’ and never deviate from this basic direction. He never shrank from denouncing oppression and injustice, and he well knew that speaking against the powerful was extremely risky. Yet he maintained faith in his evangelical intuition: just like the Lord Jesus, who was faithful to the point of giving his own life. In the same manner, every Christian who desires to live up to his or her human dignity should defend the poor and the oppressed, and act with honesty and transparency.


BORN in Vicenza in 1970, Antonio Ramina graduated in Literature from the University of Padua in 1995. After a brief period working as a teacher, he entered the Order of Friars Minor Conventual. Following his solemn profession in 2002, he continued his studies in Theology at the Theological University of Northern Italy with a thesis on the writings of Saint Francis of Assisi. He still teaches Spiritual Theology at the Divinity School of the Triveneto.

He has been Guardian of the Community of St Anthony Doctor since 2013; previously, for the same Institute, he was rector to the young friars in initial formation. He became Rector of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in September 2021.

Many of his theological publications deal with spiritual theology, and include works on Saint Francis of Assisi’s writings, Thomas Merton, and Christian de Chergé.

Updated on February 09 2022