From lost souls to lost jobs, St. Anthony of Padua is a trusted and beloved resource for devout Roman Catholics everywhere.
And this week, pilgrims will have an opportunity to view the saint's relics - a floating rib and piece of facial skin - when they tour area parishes for veneration services.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Father Robert Victoria, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church in El Segundo. "St. Anthony is one of the well-known miracle workers in the church. "
The patron saint of the lost, including lost things, St. Anthony lived from 1195-1231. The Franciscan monk and eloquent evangelist was born in Portugal and lived in Morocco before settling in Padua, Italy.
The tour - which included the East Coast earlier this year and also will make stops in Chicago, Milwaukee, Canada, Ireland and England - marks the 750th anniversary of the discovery by St. Bonaventure of the saint's preserved tongue from among his remains.
The turnout for the Southern California visits - which include veneration services and special Masses - has been especially strong, said Tom Muscatello of the Franciscan Friars of the Anthonian Association in New York.
"The response is tremendous," he said. In particular, the Philippino community - "great devotees of St. Anthony" - have turned out in force, he said.
A visit to St. Peter's Italian Church in Los Angeles on Tuesday night drew so many people that the church ran out of communion wafers. "There were more than 1,000 people, it was standing room only," Muscatello said. A San Diego church stop earlier topped 1,500 people.
Traveling with Muscatello is Father Mario Conte, a Franciscan and executive editor of the Messenger of St. Anthony magazine in Padua.
"We've been blessed with a lot of people," Conte said of the tour. "Somehow people feel that St. Anthony is a friend, he is almost a member of their family, a brother. "
Many of the pilgrims have spoken to Conte about their intercessory prayers to St. Anthony. Among the requests have been the return of wayward children to the faith and the return of physical health and jobs, Conte said.
"Unfortunately, during these last few years in Europe and also here in the States, a lot of people lost their jobs, so that is a big concern," Conte said.
Some 5 million pilgrims pass through the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua each year - where the saint's tongue and other relics permanently remain - making it one of the world's most popular Catholic shrines.
The round of South Bay visits begin today at American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach and continue with St. Francis Korean Catholic Church in Torrance (Friday), St. Anthony Catholic Church in El Segundo and Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Hermosa Beach (Saturday); and St. Anthony of Padua Church in Gardena (Sunday).
Worshipers connect with the physical relics in a special way, Conte said.
"They know that, after all, these are just human bones," he said. "But at the same time, they know that those bones belonged to St. Anthony, a person who was touched by the living power of God. ... They feel like it is almost like a physical meeting with a friend. "
Conte recalled what a "simple woman" told a journalist during a tour in Ireland one year.
Asked if she realized the saint had "died 800 years ago," the woman replied: "I know. But love still goes on. "
by Donna Littlejohn
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