MANY years ago, when I was still living with my parents and studying Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Padua, my father, who had long been suffering from Parkinson’s, was getting worse and worse. He had difficulties in the sleep-wake cycle, was subject to hallucinations, and very often fell to the ground, hurting himself quite seriously at times.

Eventually, with much pain, my mother and I had to place him in a Parkinson’s Disease Center, where, after a few months, he passed away.

A very difficult year followed. My mother had lost practically all the joy of life, and I had now so many things to do at home that I had to put my studies on hold. I was also falling prey to depression, and I had all but completely lost the desire to continue my studies. I thought that maybe it was better for me to look for a job.

It was precisely in that difficult moment that we received an unexpected visit from someone who, from that moment on, would become one of my closest friends in life. This was none other than Professor Francesco G, my English literature teacher at the University, who had always taken me under his wing because he saw potential in me. Professor G did not stay long, but with a few, firm words, made me and my mother understand that I would be making a big mistake if I gave up my studies and started working. The time of mourning was now over and I had to start to think about my future once again. I had a talent for languages and literature, and it would have been a sin not to make good use of these talents. That visit brought so much enthusiasm back into my life that in only a few months I was able to graduate.

Our friendship deepened and, when, years later, I was ordained a priest, Professor G was the first person I blessed. After the ordination liturgy he came up to me, knelt, and simply said, “Fr. Mario, bless me please.”

Many years have passed since that time and I often remember him in my prayers, especially now that he is experiencing some serious health problems.

Friendship is something precious and important, and the Bible deals with this topic in practically all its books. These books also contain some beautiful stories of friendship, like that between David and Jonathan or between Ruth and Naomi. In particular, the Book of Sirach says, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure.”

In his earthly life Jesus was also surrounded by friends like Martha, Mary, Lazarus and many others who were close to him. All of these relationships show us how important friendship is in life.

However, besides the various friends that accompany us along our earthly path, we can also have some very special friends: the saints in heaven. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us clearly that, “Being more closely united to Christ…. [the saints] do not cease to intercede with the Father for us…” (956). A few years ago, during a General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI urged all of us to have a special “travelling companion” on the journey of our Christian life. He said, “Everyone must have some Saint with whom he or she is on familiar terms, to feel close to with prayer and intercession, but also to emulate.”

Some time ago a team of sociologists conducted a survey to find out why so many people came here to the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua to pray at the Tomb of a man, a saint, who died almost 800 years ago. The most frequent answer given by pilgrims was, “I come here because this is for me St Anthony’s home, and he is our family friend.” 

And this answer describes precisely my situation too. He is my greatest friend; he is like a big brother who is always willing to listen to me and give me advice on what I should do. And this is why I stop in front of his Tomb more than once every day to seek his help for me and for all those who ask me to pray to the Saint for them.

You have no idea how many petitions my fellow friars and I are taking to his Tomb, and how much we pray to him, especially in these sad times when the coronavirus pandemic is taking away so many innocent lives. However, we have strong faith in St Anthony’s powerful intercession, and we know that God is merciful, and that he will hear our prayers; have faith.

Happy Feast of St Anthony!

Updated on June 05 2020