On Sunday 13 2021 the universal Church, and particularly, the Franciscan Order, celebrate with great joy the feast of St Anthony of Padua. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, during his weekly catechesis on this saint, delivered on 10 February 2010, St Anthony “is one of the most popular Saints in the whole Catholic Church, venerated not only in Padua, where a splendid Basilica has been built that contains his mortal remains, but also throughout the world”. The question naturally emerges: Why is St Anthony of Padua or of Lisbon so popular?
Before answering this basic question directly, let us give a quick glance to his biography. Fernando was born to a noble family from Lisbon around the year 1195. As a young man he felt the call to join the Canons of St Augustine. His first monastery was that of St Vincent’s in Lisbon itself; he later he was transferred to the Holy Cross Monastery in Coimbra, famous for its cultural contribution in Portugal. Since he was deeply convinced of his vocation, the young Canon Fernando gave himself entirely to the Biblical studies as well as to the studies of the Fathers of the Church. In this way he earned that sterling theological preparation that later on would give abundant good fruit in its time both in his academic and pastoral life.
The year 1220 was a great turning point in his life, when the relics of the first five Franciscan missionaries sent to Marocco and were brutally martyred were put on display. Canon Fernando was moved by their incredibly heroic example of faith that he immediately wanted to emulate their holy witness. Moved by his ardent wish to follow Christ in the way they did Fernando approached his superiors and requested them to exempt him from his vows to the Augustinian Canons, to become a Friar Minor. When his request was approved, he joined the Franciscans and took the name of Anthony. Full of zeal he too headed towards Marocco in the hope of undergoing the heroic martyrdom suffered by those holy five Franciscans.