The Saint in California

May 20 2013 | by

SOUTHERN California was drizzling and cloudy when it welcomed the relics of Saint Anthony in mid-April, but the glow and joy of visitors certainly provided the warmth and spiritual sunshine on the first stops of the 8-day tour of the region. Indeed, the reverence and outpouring of adoration by the visiting faithful mirrored a deep love for the Saint who has touched, inspired and influenced so many for so long.

The Southern California stopover was part of a larger nationwide tour of Saint Anthony’s relics organized by the Messenger of Saint Anthony and directed by the Franciscan Friars of the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua, Italy.

Locally, Father Ray Mallet, pastor at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach, was instrumental in facilitating the relics into and around the Greater Los Angeles area. It was a yearlong process of coordination and planning, he said, but the end result was a powerful, prayerful experience for many. “So many things in this life we are told not to touch,” he said, “but we want people to touch – respectfully of course – these relics. This is our connection to our faith.”


Two relics


Padua based Father Mario Conte, editor of the Messenger of Saint Anthony (International Edition), led venerations of the relics – a ‘floating’ rib bone and layers of cheek skin – and co-celebrated the Eucharist at 11 parishes in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara Counties.

For most of their Southern California travels, Father Conte and travelling companions were guests of Father Robert Victoria, pastor at St. Anthony Church in El Segundo. Along with the gracious hospitality of the parish staff, the large Filipino community of St. Anthony came out in droves to welcome Anthony and his relics to their parish – a scenario that was replayed often as Father Conte toured the region. In fact, Fr. Conte routinely discovered enormous crowds that contained personal stories and intimate testimonies.

“It was so important for us to be here today, my friends and I have all experienced the graces of Anthony,” says Cathy Cabinian of Bonita, California, who travelled to Good Shepherd Church in San Diego County’s Mira Mesa neighbourhood.

Cabinian explained that she and her friends had previously travelled to Padua to visit the relics; that profound experience prompted her to once again be in the presence of the Saint. She brought an image of Saint Anthony holding the Christ Child from Padua to be blessed by Fr. Conte.

Cabinian remembers the powerful act of writing down intentions and placing them on Anthony’s tomb in Padua, “You can just feel the power there and here, too,” she says, adding that her deep connection to the Saint is reflected in the fact she married a man named Anthony and was raised in San Antonio. “Anthony has touched my life in so many ways,” she summed up with a smile.


Across the ocean


It was standing room only at the late Sunday Mass at Good Shepherd with pastor Father Michael Robinson co-celebrating the Eucharist with Father Conte in the presence of Anthony’s relics positioned among colourful Easter flowers. “Think of the distance that Saint Anthony came across the ocean for you,” remarked Fr. Robinson to the worshippers. “We are mindful that God loved us so much he gave us Saint Anthony.”

Later, Fr. Robinson described his happiness when he was contacted to see if his church would be part of Saint Anthony’s Southern California travels. “Anthony is like a childhood friend for so many of us, and he continues to be a dear friend for us on our spiritual journey,” he said. “We need now more than ever that universal call to holiness, and to be in the presence of someone so holy we can feel that call in our own lives.”

Hanna Bjork could almost not contain her enthusiasm for the Saint as she explained why she – accompanied by two Daughters of Divine Charities Sisters – made the pilgrimage to Good Shepherd. “I come to thank him for the miracle he helped bring about for me a long time ago, and to also ask for a special intention today,” she related excitedly.

Only a few days after moving to the area, Bjork’s car was stolen and, as she was out looking for it, a neighbour came up and handed her a book on Saint Anthony. “I read that book in three days,” she says, and later offered up a novena to the Saint to help her find her car. One week later, she got the call from the police that her car had been located. “I was so happy, it wasn’t damaged either,” she says. “I know that Saint Anthony was watching out for me and that God listened.”


Tugging on God’s sleeve


In his homily, Fr. Conte reinforced the true nature of saints and why Catholics hold them dear. “Saints do not perform miracles or answer prayers – that’s something only God can do,” the Friar from Padua said. “But saints, like Anthony, are so close to God, they are like constantly tugging on God’s sleeves saying, “Please help this man! Please help this woman!”

Fr. Conte also described this year as the 750th anniversary of the discovery of Saint Anthony’s incorrupt tongue by Saint Bonaventure. Anthony died in 1231, and was originally buried at Sancta Maria Mater Domini Church in Padua. His remains were later moved in 1263 to the current Basilica. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, then Minister General of the Franciscan Order, presided at the ceremony where, among the bones and ashes in the Saint’s coffin, they discovered that the Saint’s vocal organs were intact, including a red and soft tongue. “Oh blessed tongue, that ever praised the Lord and led other to praise Him!” St. Bonaventure exclaimed. “Now it is clear how great are your merits before God!” Anthony was, in fact, known as a wonderful preacher of the Gospel. Since then, the Feast of Saint Anthony’s Tongue is celebrated.


Close to God


Many families gathered to venerate Saint Anthony at Good Shepherd, which has a vibrant Filipino population. Gloria Reyes joined her sisters, nieces and nephews in bringing their 90-year-old matriarch, Cristeta Dangue Lindog, to the occasion. “Ever since we were young, we were taught in times of hardships and trials to turn to Saint Anthony,” said Gloria, who recalls her older brothers praying novenas in the traditional brown robes with white rope belts. “I am so happy that I could bring my mother here today. Look, she wore her brown dress in honour of Saint Anthony!”

Families also came out to visit Saint Anthony when the relics later travelled to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles. The cathedral provided an expansive interior for the countless visitors, who waited in long lines all along the outer walls for hours.

“This is my first time here in the cathedral,” says Marilu Chavez, who drove from Palmdale to be with her sister Elena and Elena’s 6-month-old daughter Camilla. “I believe that when we are close to Saint Anthony, we can be close to God.”


Role model


Likewise, Elena explained that she sees Saint Anthony as a role model, “someone you’d like to be like. I also wanted my daughter to be here in his presence today. When she is older, I will tell her all about Anthony and all the things he has done for me, and all the things we can do for him.”

While most people approached in quiet and reverential moods, others were joyous and awestruck. One woman broke into a big smile and started speaking in Italian when it was her turn to approach the relics. Indeed, her quiet yet animated conversation was as if she was catching up with a long-lost friend.

Likewise, Ellen Garrovillas had tears in her eyes after her veneration with Saint Anthony. She wanted to come to the cathedral, but since it was a workday she wasn’t sure she could get the day off from her job at a nursing home in Van Nuys. When she was told yes, she was overjoyed and she was joined by two fellow nurses who made the trek to downtown Los Angeles. “My friends went to Padua last year and I couldn’t go and I was so sad,” she emotionally explained. “Now, Saint Anthony has come to me.”

Garrovillas presented various intentions for the elderly in her care as well as for her boss who gave her the day off. “With his humility, Saint Anthony followed God and we all need to be following in his footsteps,” she said.


First-time encounters


Among the tourists, parishioners and professionals who work in the downtown area, the cathedral also welcomed students, including 63 eighth-grade students from Saint Benedict School in Montebello.

Junior high teacher Eric Lazano shepherded the students for their first taste of veneration. “It’s another way we can get in touch with our faith,” he said. “Being close to a great person fills you with that spirit.”

For most students, this was a first-time encounter with relics. Student Jacob Rivera said previous discussions in the classroom helped prepare him for this day. “Relics are sacred items that remind us of how great that saint was and what we can become,” he said.

Fellow student Martin Olmos shared his personal intention that he offered to Anthony, a prayer that seemed to be the epitome of all prayers presented to the Saint during his Southern California travels. As one of seven children (he’s the only boy), Olmos asked to “help his family have more harmony with each other. We forget sometimes how to help one another. That is what I ask of Saint Anthony.”

Updated on October 06 2016