In a general audience at the Vatican
on February 10, 2010, Pope Benedict
XVI gave a well-developed overview
of the life of St. Anthony of Padua. A
good context for understanding Pope
Benedict's words regarding Anthony
was the pope's claim in an earlier audience
(January 13) that the "history of
the Church...shows that saints...are the
authentic reformers of the life of the
Church and of society" (italics mine).
To further set the stage, Benedict's
address on St. Anthony was preceded
by similar audiences devoted to St.
Francis of Assisi (January 27) and St.
Dominic de Guzman (February 3).
The Life of St. Anthony
In his biographical sketch of St.
Anthony, Benedict reminded the audience
that Anthony belonged to the
"first generation of the Friars Minor."
He also described him as "one of the
most popular saints in the whole Catholic
Church, venerated not only in
Padua, where a splendid basilica has
been built which contains his mortal
remains, but also throughout the
Benedict noted that Anthony was
born in Portugal around 1195 and
spent several years there as an Augustinian
friar, receiving a fine theological
education. Later, because of a desire to
become a Franciscan missionary in
Morocco, Anthony joined the Friars
Minor. Becoming ill in Morocco,
Anthony was brought to Italy, and
ended up in a friary near the town of
Invited one day to preach at a priestly
ordination, Anthony spoke so eloquently
and brilliantly, said Benedict,
that his "superiors assigned him to
preaching." Then, according to the
pope, Anthony "embarked on apostolic
work in Italy and France that was
so intense and effective that it induced
many people who had left the Church
to retrace their footsteps.
"Anthony was also one of the first—if not the first—theology teachers of
the Friars Minor," continued the pope.
"He began his teaching in Bologna with
the blessing of St. Francis who...sent
him a short letter that began with these
words: 'I would like you to teach the
brethren theology.' Anthony laid the
foundations of Franciscan theology
which...was to reach its apex with
St. Bonaventure and Blessed Duns
Anthony also served as provincial for
the friars in northern Italy. After completing
this role, he resumed his popular
work of preaching and doing other
ministries in and around Padua. Finally,
having fallen ill, St. Anthony died on
the outskirts of Padua, June 13, 1231.
He was canonized one year later.
Benedict adds that Anthony, near
the end of his life, also put together
Sermons "for the Franciscan Order's
preachers and teachers of theological
studies....The richness of spiritual teaching
contained in the Sermons," says
Benedict, "was so great that in 1946
Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaimed
Anthony a Doctor of the Church."
In Anthony's day, poor people needed
defenders, and, recounts Benedict,
St. Anthony in his preaching often
urged "rich people" to help "the poor."
We also know that Anthony often
fought against unjust social conditions
of 13th-century life. In Padua, for example,
people owing big debts they
could never pay were imprisoned.
Thanks to Anthony, this oppressive
practice was stopped. A Paduan document
notes: "At the request of the
venerable Friar Anthony,...it is established...
that henceforth no one is to
be held in prison for pecuniary debt."
Anthony's instinct to eliminate the
sufferings of the poor was preceded by
St. Francis' own efforts to help the poorest
of the poor, namely, the lepers he
served so tenderly. Given these examples,
it's helpful to recall that—at
the beginning of this editorial—Pope
Benedict argued that the saints are
"authentic reformers" of human history.
This remains true of saints of our own
times such as St. Damien of Molokai.
This Belgian-born saint went to Hawaii
to serve people with Hansen's disease
(leprosy) and in time succumbed to
the illness himself in 1889. Damien is
praised around the world as a highly
admired saint who brought love, hope,
comfort and human dignity to many
severely challenged individuals. Damien
was canonized by Benedict XVI in
Or consider St. Jeanne Jugan of
France, founder of the Little Sisters
of the Poor, who died in 1879. She
founded homes for the elderly poor in
her own country and beyond. Her sisters
and co-workers have made a real
impact on society, helping thousands of
elderly poor grow old with a profound
sense of human worth. Jeanne was canonized
by Benedict XVI in 2009.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born
in Albania in 1910. Named Agnes
Bojaxhiu at birth, she founded the Missionaries
of Charity (1950) to assist
poor, sick, abandoned and dying people
in the streets of Calcutta. Now her
community, spread throughout the
world, seeks to find the face of Jesus in
the poorest of the poor, showing them
dignity. Mother Teresa died in 1997
and was beatified by Pope John Paul II
Anthony, Damien, Jeanne and Mother
Teresa are saintly not because they are
famous; they are saints because, like
Jesus, they showed special care for the
poor, the sick and the forgotten. Their
example reminds us that this kind of
love is possible for each of us—right
here, right now.—J.W.