Several parishes across Melbourne enjoyed the opportunity to venerate and celebrate Mass in the presence of two first-class relics of St Anthony of Padua this month. With the feast of St Anthony of Padua falling on 13 June, the Committee of St Anthony of Padua, based at Our Lady Queen of Peace Church in Payneham, South Australia, facilitated the tour of the sacred relics across several parishes in Melbourne between 7 and 9 June.

Franciscan friar Fr Bortolino Maistrello, from the Pontifical Basilica of St Anthony in Padua, Italy, accompanied the two first-class relics, originally from St Anthony’s Basilica. The relics are both the skin of St Anthony. One has been placed within a golden monstrance, while the other has been placed within a golden statue of St Anthony of Padua.

In Melbourne, the relics visited parish communities gathered at St Francis of Assisi Church in Mill Park, St Mary MacKillop Church in Keilor Downs, St Joseph’s in Springvale and St Peter Apostle Mission Church in Hoppers Crossing over three days between 7 and 9 June, before returning to South Australia on 12 June.

At St Francis of Assisi Parish in Mill Park, a prayer group meets each week for devotions, Mass and a novena to St Anthony of Padua. Each year, according to parish priest Fr Anthony Girolami, this dedicated group organises for the relics of St Anthony of Padua to visit the parish, where many people from Mill Park and other parishes around Melbourne come together for the solemn celebration of St Anthony’s feast day and veneration of the relics.

This year, the celebration took place on the evening of Friday 7 June, beginning with the Rosary and St Anthony’s Novena, both recited in Malayalam, followed by Mass in English, veneration of the relics and a candlelit procession. The evening concluding with dinner at the parish hall.

Fr Anthony says the event ‘has grown over time’ and is ‘a wonderful opportunity for people to grow in their appreciation of the lives of the saints.

‘On this particular day, when the relics were brought to us, it made us realise that St Anthony is not just a historic figure but a saint who’s praying for us at this very moment of our lives’, he says, with the relics becoming ‘like a connection with the past as we realise that the prayer of the saints is bolstering the spirit of life here in the parish and assisting people in their daily lives.’

With close to 700 people attending the celebration this year, he is deeply grateful for the dedication and generosity of the St Anthony prayer group, ‘who enabled this wonderful occasion, celebrated by so many’.

Every seat was taken, he says, and there were people standing all around the edges of the church. ‘It was a blessing for all,’ he says. ‘Simply we say, “St Anthony of Padua, pray for us.”’

At St Peter Apostle Mission Church in Hoppers Crossing, about 450 people attended the veneration of the relics and Mass. Parish priest Fr Vincent John CMI said he was ‘very pleased with the attendance’ and that it brought him ‘great satisfaction and happiness to know that this wonderful event was made possible not only for our parishioners and those of local parishes, but for parishioners from many other parishes in our Archdiocese, as most of them have great devotion to St Anthony.’

Given that most people are unable to visit the relics in their home in Padua, he said, ‘this was their opportunity to be part of this wonderful celebration’.

Fr Bortolino preached the homily during Mass at St Peter Apostle Mission Church, speaking of the history and significance of the sacred relics. He explained that the relics are the skin of St Anthony and were taken from his corrupted body when they opened his casket in 1261. The only incorrupt part of St Anthony’s body was his tongue. They are taken around the world so people have the opportunity to venerate St Anthony.

Fr Bortolino gave a brief history of St Anthony’s life, explaining that the saint was a great scholar and theologian who joined the Franciscan Order and travelled to Morocco from his home in Portugal so he could die a martyr. St Anthony’s plans were thwarted when he became extremely ill and was sent back to Portugal. He never made it home.

Instead, he landed in Sicily and eventually lived in Tuscany as a cook for the local friars. One day there was some confusion over who would deliver the homily during Mass, and St Anthony was assigned the task. Fr Bortolino said that St Anthony gave such a moving and beautiful homily that word spread to St Francis of Assisi and people came from everywhere to hear him speak. Thus began St Anthony’s mission as a preacher of the Catholic faith.

Fr Bortolino explained that our knowledge of St Anthony is not just restricted to the stories of his day. There were several findings that arose from the study of St Anthony’s remains when his tomb was last exhumed in 1981. Among other things, he said they found that the bones in his feet were enlarged. This accords with the many stories of the long distances that St Anthony is said to have walked as a preacher. Additionally, St Anthony’s kneecaps appeared enlarged, a glimpse into the fervour and prayer life of the saint, who spent so much of his time on his knees.

Ultimately, Fr Bortolino said, the life of St Anthony serves as a model for us today. He modelled great humility as he accepted even the lowly position of a cook, despite his academic accomplishments, and always trusted in God’s providential hand, even when his plans were thwarted repeatedly. Fr Bortolino emphasised that instead of trying to go against God’s will, we must listen carefully, like St Anthony, to what God is trying to tell us when things don’t go as we plan.

St Anthony Committee president Lou Fantasia said, ‘Since its conception over 50 years ago, the solemn feast for St Anthony in Payneham has grown and adapted, drawing people from different communities and diverse cultures, and uniting family and friends.’

He believes the relics’ visits have ‘added something special to the religious and social life’ of communities in both Melbourne and Adelaide by ‘assisting in widening the faith’ and by ‘spreading that faith to this nation and also that of Asia–Pacific region’.

Banner image: A procession of the relics of St Anthony of Padua outside St Francis of Assisi Church in Mill Park. (Photo courtesy of St Francis of Assisi Parish.)