St. Anthony of Padua is the name by which he is generally known. He was only a young man when he died. Padua was his last home on earth. His relics rest there, honored by thousands every year in the basilica.
Since his death and by his intercession, countless miracles have been reported. But Padua, in Northern Italy, was not his native city. Anthony was born in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1195, according to some historical resources on the feast of Mary's Assumption. A contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi. St. Anthony became St. Francis' most illustrious disciple.
But neither Italy nor Portugal can claim him exclusively as their own. St. Anthony is the Saint of the whole world - a universal Saint for a universal Church. He was one who followed Francis as an instrument of peace in caring about people, especially the poor.
Devotion to St. Anthony and the Franciscans forms a part of life in nearly every land. Visit any Catholic Church and you will likely find a statue or stained glass window of St. Francis, St. Anthony or St. Clare. You will also see the stations of the cross, a devotion popularized by the Franciscans. People pray to St. Anthony about the troubles and challenges in their daily lives, especially to find things they have lost.
Fernando was St. anthony's baptismal name. Born of an aristocratic family, he was about 20 years old when he said farewell to the worldly prospects that lay before him and consecrated himself about 1210 as a religious among the Canons Regular of St. Augustine.
But in their monastery near his native city, he was distracted by visits from relatives and friends. After two years, Fernando asked to be transferred. He was sent to Holy Cross in Coimbra, a great center of learning and the capital of Portugal at that time. He devoted the next eight years of his life to study and prayer, immersing himself in sacred scripture.
At Olivalis , near his monastery, a few early followers of St. Francis of Assisi had a little dwelling. Fernando often helped them when they begged for alms. He admired the humble, joyful hearts of these men who cheerfully renounced worldly values. But a far greater sacrifice by these zealous Franciscans proved the turning point in Fernando's idealistic life.
In 1219, Francis had sent his first missionaries - Berard, Peter, Accuriso, Adiuto and Otto - to the Muslims. When they urged that the king of Morocco convert to the Christian faith, he put them to death by the sword on January 16, 1220. Francis himself had gone to preach to the Sultan. The relics of the martyr friars were laid to rest in the church of the Holy Cross in Coimbra where Fernando lived.
Inspired by the friars' heroic deaths, he desired to become a Franciscan. He joined their Olivais community in the summer of 1220, taking the name of Anthony, a saintly hermit of the fourth century.
He then set sail for Morocco, but on reaching his destination fell seriously ill. Forced to abandon his plans, he returned home. En route, his ship encountered a storm and was driven to the coast of Sicily, where Franciscans welcomed him and nursed him to health. In the spring of 1221, a general gathering of some 3,000 Franciscans took place at Assisi, and Anthony went to meet his new brothers.
Afterwards, seeking God's will, he spent a year in prayer and study at Montepaolo, a mountain hermitage of the Friars.
God's call to Anthony to enter into the heart of the world came in the summer of 1222. After a priestly ordination of Franciscans and Dominicans at Forli, all gathered for a festive dinner. When no one accepted the superior's invitation to give a talk, he called Anthony. The brothers were awed by his knowledge of the Scriptures and moved by his eloquence. Soon afterwards Anthony embarked on a career as a Franciscan preacher that would continue through France and Italy for the next nine years. His sermons often drew large crowds that overflowed town squares and filled vast fields.
The Franciscan's final Rule was approved by Pope Honorious III in 1223. About that time, Francis chose Anthony to teach theology to his friars. He also served as leader of the Franciscans in northern Italy. St. Francis died in 1226 and was canonized in 1228. From that year onward, Anthony had a place to stay in Padua but was often on the road, continuing a lasting Franciscan mission of love at work. In his sermons, he defended the Church's teachings. He spoke out against unjust interest rate, and interceded for debtors. He challenged people to give alms to the poor. His stirring words show how deeply he understood people's problems. And he strengthened his words with a holy life. "The preacher must by word and example," he wrote,"be a sun to those to whom he preaches. You are, says the Lord, the light of the world. Our light must warm the hearts of the people."
Perhaps one of the most famous stories about the Saint concerns an appearance of Jesus to him near the end of his life. He was working on a book of sermons while staying at a small Franciscan house not far from Padua. Anthony's mystical experience of the child Jesus reflects the central place of the incarnation of the Son of God in his Sermons.
After giving a series of Lenten sermons to the people of Padua in the Spring of 1231, Anthony became seriously ill. A few months later on June 13, in the Poor Clare Convent at Arcella near Padua, he died singing, like St. Francis, his final song, a hymn to Mary. The children of Padua ran through the streets calling out, "The Saint has died! The holy father has died!"
Anthony had wanted to be put to rest at a home in Padua, but when the news spread of his death, disputes arose over who could claim the remains of this popular Franciscan, just as had happened when St. Francis died.
The following Tuesday, Anthony's remains were finally borne in a triumphal funeral procession to the friar's church in Padua. The day saw a marvelous manifestation of favors granted to all who called on the Saint for his intercession. As a result, Tuesday has become particularly associated with St. Anthony. Down through the centuries, pilgrims to his tomb have gathered there on Tuesdays to pray for their needs.
The Church declared St. Anthony a saint on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death. A magnificent burial-church was soon being built in Padua. When Anthony's remains were transferred to this basilica in 1263, his tongue was found intact. Reverance for the Saint spread and has continued ever since.
The novena of Tuesdays in honor of St. Anthony has become a favorite devotion. Not satisfied with nine Tuesdays, the faithful increased the number to 13 to commemorate the day on which the Saint had died. The church has encouraged these special Tuesday prayers.