Today, June 13, marks the 800th anniversary of St. Anthony de Padua’s call to follow in the footsteps of St. Francis in 1220. In celebration of this memorable event, Pope Francis reminded the younger generations of Catholics to “live the Gospel courageously” just as St. Anthony did.
“Eight hundred years ago in Coimbra, a young regular Augustinian learned of the martyrdom of five Franciscans, killed on account of the Christian faith in Morocco on January 16 of that same year, and he decided to change his life,” Pope Francis wrote in a letter published June 3 on the Franciscan Order’s website.
“This ancient saint—so modern and brilliant in his intuitions—can be a model for the new generations to follow to make everyone’s journey fruitful,” Lolo Kiko said. (READ: Finally! Pope Francis dedicates feast day for St. Faustina)
Pope Francis also recounted how St. Anthony is a “restless” saint who hit the road to share God’s love through word and deed. The Holy Father encouraged the world’s Franciscans and devotees to follow in his footsteps. (Read: What do the flowers in your favorite saint’s image mean?)
“May his example of sharing in the difficulties of families, the poor and disadvantaged, as well as his passion for truth and justice, still arouse in us today a generous commitment to give of ourselves as a sign of fraternity,” Lolo Kiko said.
Who is St. Anthony de Padua?
St. Anthony de Padua was not from Padua, nor was he named Anthony. The saint was born as Ferdinand to a rich family in Lisbon, Portugal in 1195. He entered religious life when he was 15 years old. While living in a monastery of the Augustinian Abbey of St. Vincent in Lisbon, Ferdinand moved to a more remote house to concentrate on studying Scripture and live a life of asceticism and devotion to God.
In 1220, Ferdinand learned the news of five Franciscan friars who were martyred in Morocco. When their bodies were brought to Portugal for veneration, Ferdinand developed a passionate desire to imitate their commitment to the Gospel. He told a group of Franciscans who visited the monastery that he wanted to adopt their poor and humble way of life. (Read: What Do Pope Francis and Saint Francis of Assisi Have in Common?)
His decision was met with mockery and criticisms. The Augustinian monks were laughing at him for wanting to join the Franciscan Order, which had been established only recently, in 1209. However, it was Ferdinand’s desire to follow the example of St. Francis of Assisi—who was still living at the time—that led him to join the order.
Joining the Franciscans
He eventually obtained permission to leave the Augustinians and join a small Franciscan monastery in 1221. He took the name Anthony after the fourth-century desert monk St. Anthony of Egypt.
Because he wanted to imitate the Franciscan martyrs who died in Morocco, Anthony traveled to Africa but became ill. The ship that was supposed to take him to Spain for treatment was blown off course and he ended up in Sicily. There he met St. Francis of Assisi on the roads of Italy and France.
Closer to St. Francis
Despite being ill, Anthony stayed in Italy to be closer to St. Francis. He hid his deep knowledge of theology and Scripture and offered to serve in the kitchen among the Franciscan brothers. (READ: Love for All Creatures: The Story of St. Francis and the Doves)
However, when Anthony was tasked to deliver an improvised speech before the Dominicans and Franciscans, his eloquence stunned the crowd. And St. Francis learned what kind of man the dishwashing priest really was. In 1224, St. Francis gave Anthony permission to teach theology, which he taught in several French and Italian cities.
Later on, Anthony began to preach as a missionary in France, Italy, and Spain. He became known for his bold preaching and austere lifestyle. He also had a reputation as a worker of miracles. Anthony died in a Franciscan monastery in Padua at the age of 36 on June 13, 1231. He was canonized a year after his death. (READ: The miraculous intercessions of saints that will turn even the most stubborn of skeptics into believers)
His feast day is celebrated with much festivity each year in Italy and in his native Portugal.