Praying for miracles

  • March 16, 2007
TORONTO - Sandy Sitar and her husband Glenn Brown work in the pharmaceutical industry in technically demanding jobs. They’re educated young professionals — not the sort of people who fall into superstition or believe in magic. But that doesn’t mean they don’t believe in miracles.
“St. Anthony is just one we’ve come to know as bringing miracles, so we’re hoping for a miracle in our life,” said Brown as he and Sitar lined up for the opportunity to pray before two relics of St. Anthony on a cold, March evening in St. Bonaventure’s parish in midtown Toronto.

The relics were on a special two-day visit to Toronto March 7-8 from Padua in Italy, part of a North American tour of Franciscan-run parishes.

Sitar and Brown have faced “struggles” trying to have children. There are limits to how many medical options a couple may want to subject themselves to, but prayers, Masses and a visit with St. Anthony seem like the right way to go now, said Sitar.

Many Catholics know St. Anthony as an old friend, and most associate him with miracles, Conventual Franciscan Friar Mario Conte told the packed church before the congregation began streaming up to an altar for a visit with the saint’s relics. Conte stressed that praying for the intercession of St. Anthony is a matter of asking a favour from an old and generous friend.

“It won’t be something magical or superstitious. It will be a meeting with a friend,” Conte said.

Conte, editor of the English edition of the Franciscan magazine Il Messagero, wanted to ensure that St. Anthony’s association with miracles comes in the context of his dedication to the Gospels and to evangelization.

“He was a messenger of God’s love. He never stopped preaching.”

For Lisa Massaroni and her boyfriend, Daniel Goodwill, a visit with St. Anthony is a matter of family tradition.

“St. Anthony has always been big in my family,” said Massaroni. “My parents have always been devoted to St. Anthony, since we were little.”

Carmelite Sister Stephanie Archer wasn’t so much asking St. Anthony for a miracle as thanking him for favours granted through the last 70 years.

“I remember in my teens going to the grotto and praying to St. Anthony,” she said.

Her prayers were answered in the form of new jobs and new directions in her life.

“He has given me a lot of answers to a lot of things I have asked,” she said.

St. Anthony of Padua, evangelical doctor of the church, was born Fernando de Bulhoes in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal. He lived just 36 years and died in Padua, Italy. He was educated by Augustinians and became an Augustinian monk just outside of Lisbon. As a young priest and a scholar who had studied Scripture and classical literature, de Bulhoes was attracted to the radical new rule of the Franciscans. He obtained permission from his superiors to join the new order in 1220, and on joining the Franciscans took the name Anthony in honour of the founder of Christian monasticism, St. Anthony the Great.

The new Franciscan intended to invite martyrdom by attempting to convert Muslims in Morocco, but he fell ill and couldn’t make the journey. Assigned to serve as priest to a small community of hermits in northern Italy he ended up travelling on foot throughout Italy and France constantly preaching. He most likely died from dropsy, an accumulation of fluids in the body.

He was made a saint less than a year after his death by Pope Gregory IX. He is often depicted in statues and paintings holding the infant Jesus, with a book, bread and a lily in the other hand or nearby.

Over the centuries St. Anthony has been declared patron saint of a wide array of causes, places and things including pregnant women, barrenness, Brazil, elderly people, horses, lost articles, fishermen, oppressed people, travel hostesses, shipwrecks, starvation, Beaumont, Tex., American Indians, Portugal and poor people.

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