Sincere Devotion

December 06 2013 | by

Hugely Inspiring


By Sarah Mac Donald


“WHAT A surprising lift St. Anthony gave our faith.” Capuchin Fr. Dermot Lynch was one of thousands of Irish faithful buoyed up by the visit of the Saint’s relics to Ireland in October. Speaking after the hugely successful tour, his delight was palpable. The visit saw unprecedented crowds queue, in some cases for hours, at the six venues in order to spend a moment or two with their beloved Saint. These days Irish Catholics are used to hearing about the stark decline in the numbers attending Mass and claims that the Church is running out of steam. So imagine the shock on 17 October when the main evening television news beamed images of throngs of people crowded into the Convenutal Franciscans’ church of the Visitation in Dublin.


Bewildered media


Between 17 and 24 October images of crowds gathered to pray and honour St. Anthony featured in the media across Ireland. This secular media, which is often antagonistic towards the Church, seemed bewildered by the phenomenon. It has been calculated that a staggering 150,000 people came to venerate the relics over the course of the week, though that figure is much higher according to other sources. There were even warnings on traffic bulletins on national radio of congestion in parts of Dublin “due to the visit of the relics of St. Anthony to St. Mary of the Angels on Church Street.”

At the outset of the visit Fr. Mario Conte described St. Anthony as a messenger of hope. For many Catholics the earnest devotion and cheerful willingness to queue for hours in order to dedicate a little bit of time to prayer hinted that renewal is possible for the Irish Church. Writing in the Irish Times when the tour was over, Fr. Danny O’Mahony of the National Liturgy Centre in Maynooth stated, “That the young and the seasoned, the windswept and curious, filed past the reliquary of St. Anthony of Padua in recent days should not be surprising. Though he died in 1231, Anthony’s regard as a popular Franciscan preacher and messenger of hope has reached down to our time.”


Positive outcomes


In Cork on Sunday 20 October, Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross welcomed the relics to a packed Holy Trinity Church at 11 am. They had already visited St Francis’ friary in Wexford, where Bishop Brennan led ceremonies, as well as Merchant’s Quay on Saturday 19 October, where over 10,000 people streamed into the church armed with lilies and tired legs. Next day in Cork the crowds “grew so large that we had to close the gates of the church outside – a sight rarely seen here!” Fr. Lynch recalls. Despite the rain, over 30,000 people came on that day, and they were shepherded by the local police and over one hundred volunteers. There were other positive outcomes, such as the constant flow of people for confession and the team of confessors from religious orders and diocesan priests from Cork city who stayed for the whole day. “It was all hugely inspiring, particularly to see the number of families, mothers, fathers and children of all ages, and the patient way they waited to say thanks to their favourite saint – Anthony of Padua – and invoke his help in these difficult times.”


Boost to our faith


For Fr. Lynch the best way to recapture the visit is through letters sent by the public to the local newspapers. These included comments such as, The queues were a sight to behold; What a great day for the city of Cork when the relics of St. Anthony came; The crowds were amazing, with long, long queues to visit our beloved Saint; Such devotion is a real boost to our faith in these dark times, and it was wonderful to see so many young families introducing their children to this Saint of Miracles.

The first port of call for the relics was Fairview in Dublin. There they were greeted by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, Primate of Ireland, and Archbishop Charles Brown, the Papal Nuncio. Some of those who attended the evening Mass and veneration had travelled long distances, from places as far away as Donegal, Galway and Dundalk. In his homily, Archbishop Martin told the overflowing congregation that they were gathered together for a moment of prayer in the presence of the relics of St. Anthony of Padua. “We have all turned to St. Anthony to find things that we have lost, but we should also turn to St. Anthony when we find ourselves lost – when we get lost in sin, self-centredness and in our own preoccupations.” On a less serious note, the Archbishop joked, “I think of myself as somebody who lives in the modern world, and I firmly believe St. Anthony is active in the modern world. The reason I say that is, he used to find my keys, now he finds my cell phone.”

One woman who waited in line with hundreds of other devotees told RTE Radio’s The God Slot programme, “I couldn’t believe it when I saw the crowds. People are crying out for the Church to be part of their lives.” Archbishop Martin reminded the congregation that their faith has to be practical in nature. “Sanctity is not something that is different to our ordinary daily lives and our bodily lives. Holiness is attained not by a mysterious flight away from reality, it is something that is worked out in the toil of mind and body by each one of us under the guidance of the Spirit. Holiness must touch every fabric of our human being.”

One of those who attended the formal welcome ceremony in Dublin was a 50-year-old man, Martin Jim McFadden from Letterkenny in Co Donegal. He made a five hour journey by bus with his wife in order to reach Dublin in time for the arrival of the relics. Explaining why he was willing to undertake a ten-hour round trip, the former alcoholic explained that he owes his sobriety and meeting his wife Liz to the intervention of St. Anthony. “I was a lost soul. St. Anthony helps people to find things. He helped me to find my sobriety and to find my wife, and brought me back to the light.” Martin and Liz have visited Padua, and it was while on a pilgrimage there that he had the Saint’s dying words I see the Lord (Video Dominum Meum) tattooed on his arm.


Edified and uplifted


Fr. Hugh P. Kennedy, Administrator of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast, told the Messenger of St Anthony that the constant flow of visitors and pilgrims throughout the day was “truly impressive” and that “some of those had made a long journey to be present.” He said he was “truly edified and uplifted by the sincere devotion of these people, many of whom simply stayed for quiet prayer in the Cathedral having venerated the relics.” It was the same in Galway Cathedral, where Bishop Martin Drennan led ceremonies, and roughly 30,000 people turned up. In Limerick, on 21 October, another 30,000 people visited St. John’s Cathedral from 9 am in the morning through to 10.30 pm, many queuing in rain outside the church for long periods. As the local media noted, “Limerick became a crossroads as vast numbers of the faithful flocked in endless droves throughout the day to St. John’s Cathedral to venerate the relics of the world’s most popular saint, St. Anthony of Padua.” Writing afterwards, Bishop Brendan Leahy said it was “way beyond our expectations and a great lift for all involved in the Church. It was an edifying, humbling and comforting reminder that people’s faith is still so precious and strong.” He added, “They came here to worship, to make petitions, and to simply say thanks. It really was such a wonderful day of celebration and created such a great buzz in the City itself.”

Tremendous Success


By Ellen Teague


WHEDevotees throng around the relic at St. George's Cathedral, Southwark, LondonN I told my 89-year-old mother that I was bringing her to visit the relics of St. Anthony at Westminster Cathedral in Central London on 2 November she declared it “the happiest day of my life.” Two hours later she was reaching up from her wheelchair to touch the left hand of the golden statue which held the reliquary. Being blind, she couldn’t see it, but just to touch relics of her favourite Saint marked a special relationship she has felt with St. Anthony since her childhood in Northern Ireland.

As a young girl, her mother had given her a coin to go to the local village to buy food. Money was scarce in the 1930s, and she was desperate when she found that after swinging the shopping bag during the two-mile walk, the coin was missing. She and a young friend retraced steps, but it seemed useless. That friend giggled when mum asked her to kneel down and pray to St. Anthony. When they stood up, the coin was sitting beside the shopping bag. It was an experience she has never forgotten.    


Spontaneous applause


The desire to give honour and thanks to St. Anthony resonated with more than 100,000 other people who visited the Saint during the UK leg of the tour. Fr. Mario Conte, who accompanied the relics, said that at every venue people would come to him and tell their story about how St. Anthony helped them. “They all love Anthony for particular reasons,” he said.

Fr. Mario explained that connection so well in his talk at Westminster Cathedral at a Mass honouring St. Anthony celebrated by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The Franciscan friar spoke about them bringing “a message of hope and love.” His refrain, based on St. Anthony’s preaching of “God loves you and God cares for you,” was repeated softly by the packed congregation at Westminster, which was standing down the side aisles and side altars, before they broke out into spontaneous applause at the end of the talk. This followed an afternoon of veneration, where pilgrims queued for hours outside the Cathedral to touch the relics. During his inspired homily, Archbishop Nichols said that St. Anthony was a guide to those who have lost their way in life.

Prior to their arrival in London – where St. Anthony’s relics were also displayed at Southwark Cathedral in South London and St. Peter’s Italian Church in East London – the relics had visited Belfast, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Newcastle, Manchester, Liverpool and Chester.

The UK leg of the tour started at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Belfast on 24 October. A cousin of mine was there and described the occasion as “moving and beautiful”. The administrator of the Cathedral, Fr. Hugh Kennedy, reported that throughout the day “many hundreds came in a constant flow to make veneration.” The line of pilgrims often stretched out beyond the entrance porch and past the Cathedral gates. All ages were represented, and more than 1,000 people packed the 6 pm Mass, where Bishop Anthony Farquhar of Down and Connor was the main celebrant. “What I personally found moving was the long distances some had travelled to be present, and often having venerated the relics spent a prolonged period of prayer and reflection in the Cathedral,” said Fr. Kennedy. “It was a remarkable testimony of the sincere and strong devotion to St. Anthony that still exists among so many Irish people.”


A spiritual uplift


Two days later, the relics visited Scotland. Blessed John Duns Scotus Church in Glasgow saw nearly 5,000 queue into the late evening to venerate the relics. “It was great, a real spiritual uplift,” reported parish priest Fr. Edmund Highton. “The people have a tremendous devotion to St. Anthony, and this was their way of expressing their thanks,” he reflected. He felt Fr. Mario had a great rapport with the people, who enjoyed his story of feeling a connection with St. Anthony after being present at the most recent opening of his Tomb in 1981. St. Mary’s Cathedral I  n Aberdeen filmed Fr. Mario’s homily during Mass and put it up on the parish website.

The first host church in England was St. Anthony of Padua Church in Walker, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 28 October. Its parish priest, Fr. Michael Conaty, said that the visit of the relics to his inner city parish was an “extraordinary success” with approximately 5,500 travelling to venerate the relics. “We had coaches from Whitby, Leeds, Scotland and Carlisle bringing people across,” he reported. Queues weaved their way around the church, and big screens were set up in a nearby Community Centre for the overflow congregation. Crowds filed past the two relics on display and were given time to say a prayer as well as write a message on a piece of paper to be placed beside his Tomb in Italy.


Central England


From there, the relics visited All Saints Friary Church in Urmston, Manchester, where a BBC film crew followed queues of around 2,000 people on 29 October. “We had BBC Radio Manchester as well,” reported Fr. Brendan Blundell, “and it was all very prayerful.” One man, who was interviewed for the BBC news website, reflected that, “it’s a great privilege and opportunity to come, and once you put your hands on the relics a sense of calmness and spirituality comes upon you.”

Then it was St. Anthony’s Church in Mossley Hill, Liverpool, on 30 October, where more than 6,000 people came from a 200 mile radius, including the Scottish borders and the Birmingham area. “It was heartwarming and encouraging to see the devotion to St. Anthony” said Fr. Vincent Kennedy.

Graham Kelly, who attended the evening Mass said, “It was fantastic to see so many people from all over Liverpool and many people from our traveller community at the church, which was literally standing room only. It was a beautiful and moving Mass with a wonderful explanation of what the relics mean and represent from one of the priests who was present the last time St. Anthony’s Tomb was opened, and who had travelled from Padua.” Of course, this referred to Fr. Mario.

The city centre Church of St. Francis in Chester was full to capacity on 31 October for a Mass celebrated by Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury, who prayed that St. Anthony would “help us by his example and prayer never to lose sight of the one goal of our lives – that you and I might be counted among all the saints.” After the Mass, queues formed for veneration until late in the evening.


London huge crowds


Then the tour reached London. The relics were brought into Southwark Cathedral more than an hour before the All Saints Day Mass on 1 November, but already most seats had been taken. Shortly afterwards several appeals had to be made for a growing crowd to be patient and move back from the altar. The Cathedral remained open late for veneration and for leaving prayer requests. At the final venue of the tour – St. Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell – veneration continued late into the evening of 3 November. Migrant communities in London – such as the Chinese and Filipinos – were represented.

The relics of St. Anthony prompted the devotion of tens of thousands in all-weathers around the UK. Despite being exhausted after being on the road with the relics since 17 October, Fr. Mario was delighted that the tour was “a tremendous success.”



The Journey of Life


by The Most Rev. Vincent Nichols

Archbishop of Westminster


IT IOur editor, Fr. Mario, with Archbishop Vincent Nichols, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, before the Mass// ©DylanParry/OremusS AN HONOUR for us all to welcome here today the precious relics of St. Anthony of Padua. I welcome too so many priests and people who have come from far and wide, especially the Conventual Franciscan friars who graciously accompany these holy relics.

St. Anthony is a saint of the whole Church, loved throughout the world. And these last two days in our calendar, the Feast of all Saints and All Souls Day also embrace the whole Church, a Church united in the praise of God and in the prayer of supplication for all the departed.

These holy relics have been on quite a journey, through Ireland and the United Kingdom. We are so glad that they have come to rest here for a few hours.

Anthony, too, was a great traveller. As you all know he was born in Lisbon and soon was on the road, at first to Coimbra where he began his life of studies. Then he travelled to Morocco, and then to Italy after getting shipwrecked in Sicily. Of course he travelled extensively throughout Italy and southern France. And there were no Easy Jet planes to help him on his way. He walked, as did so many of the great preaching saints. It gave him plenty of time for prayer and contemplation.

Yet Anthony is a leader not only in these kinds of journeys, but more importantly in the journey of life to our heavenly homeland in heaven.


Book of Wisdom


On this most fundamental of all journeys we often get lost, taking a wrong path, ending up in a cul-de-sac, distracted by bright lights or misjudgement. St. Anthony is well known for helping us to find lost things. And he can help us in this way too. He can help us to find again our true path whenever we have lost our way.

The readings of our Mass today give us great help and a wonderful sense of direction for this pilgrimage of life to our heavenly home.

In the First Reading, from the Book of Wisdom, we are given the words by which we focus on all that surrounds us on this journey. These words give us the eyes through which to see the land we are travelling across with our companions. Listen again to these words, spoken about God himself:

You love all that exists

You hold nothing you have made in abhorrence

For had you hated anything

You would not have made it.

These words summon us to look again at all that we see. We are surrounded by the good things that God has made. Often we cease to see our world in this light. But when we do so, we are so encouraged on our journey. Look again; see with fresh eyes. Look especially at the people around us and try to free your hearts of all bitterness towards others, of all easy condemnation and criticism. See again with fresh eyes. See again the goodness of God in every person, and see in them a precious companion on the journey.

Of course we do not do this. We harbour resentment, we repeat easy criticism and gossip, repeating negative things. So it is not surprising that the second lesson we learn from this Reading is the need for everyone of us to repent, to start again.


Starting again


We are to strive continually to grow in goodness by turning away from such negativity and by embracing again the view and vision of God, who is so wonderfully described as ‘The Lover of life’. We can do this because the God who calls us is merciful. He will draw us on, day by day, into a better way of life, if we permit him. Listen again to these words, spoken of our God:

You are merciful to all

Because you can do all things

And overlook men’s sins

So that they can repent.

This work of repentance comes to us day by day, step by step. Not often is repentance a moment of great drama and radical reappraisal. More often it is a slow day by day effort. Some more words from the Book of Wisdom:

Little by little you correct those who offend…

So that they may abstain from evil and trust in you, Lord.

So the gift of starting again, one that we need so very much, comes to us not simply with a deep sense of shame or remorse, but as an act of joyful cooperation with the grace of God. The pathway of repentance is the pathway of joy. Of course we come to see the folly of our ways, and we regret them. But the regular act of repentance, and of reconciliation, is an act of joyful welcome, in which we receive The Lord, The Lover of Life, who alone can bring about the new start we so desire.


Fruit of repentance


The Gospel passage we heard this evening illustrates this so clearly. Zacchaeus joyfully welcomes Jesus and joyfully embraces the repentance to which he is called, becoming trustful of our Lord, and demonstrating that trust in joyful generosity to those in needs. This teaches us another lesson. The fruit of true repentance is practical charity, the opening of our hearts to those most in need. We know when repentance has taken root in us for then we become freshly compassionate to those around, for we ourselves have received the compassion of God.

This is shown so clearly in the life of St. Anthony, too. In holiness he was the champion of the poor, a priority which is continued to this day in the tradition of St. Anthony’s Bread.


Patient prayer


The third lesson we learn today for our pilgrimage through life is that we are to pray continually. St. Anthony teaches us this, too. His finest gifts were those of preaching and teaching. But he had to wait until the time came for him to exercise these gifts to the full. Patient prayer carries us along this pilgrimage of life. Patient prayer built into the rhythm of each day is what keeps us going up the steep hills of our journey and through its dark valleys and forests. This is the way we are to walk, as Anthony did and as St. Paul tells us: to pray constantly.

St. Anthony is often depicted holding the child Jesus in his arms, for Jesus appeared to him in prayer. On our journey may we too always hold Jesus close to us, in our hearts, so that he may hold us and bring us to his Father, for all eternity. Amen.

Updated on October 06 2016