St Anthony was a man of “missionary zeal” who is a “challenge and encouragement to us to help renew authentic faith in Jesus among those who find it hard to find God”, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Mass in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral on the feast of St Anthony of Padua on Monday night. About 8,000 people came to the cathedral throughout the feast day to venerate two relics of St Anthony, a piece of skin and a floating rib, which were brought over from Padua, Italy last week and are currently touring Ireland.
Canon Damian O’Reilly, the cathedral administrator, told The Irish Catholic that both Masses in the cathedral were “absolutely packed out” and it was “an amazing experience to see the faith and devotion of the people” who queued to pray at the reliquary through to 9pm that night.
St Anthony is perhaps most famous as the saint who helps people to find lost things and Archbishop Martin said loss can take many forms in people’s lives. “There is the genuine sense of human loss of someone who is bereaved or who loses confidence in themselves or in their willingness to live. There is the total loss of respect for life where unscrupulous people begin to feel that their financial supremacy can authorise them to take life through violence and exploitation. There is a sense of loss of hope caused by the harshness of our society either through the consequences of the economic crisis or simply the lack of a sense of solidarity and care. People who have lost even the essentials in life, like home or employment, can then feel even more lost and abandoned by society.”
In St Mary’s Parish in Cahir, Co. Tipperary – the first stop on the tour last Thursday - Fr Gerry Langford PP said that most people came to see the relics out of a “sense of gratitude” and to “say thanks for some favour done or some request answered”.
Luckily, the parish had prepared for weeks in advance for the expected large crowds, as Fr Langford said between 14,000-15,000 came through the doors throughout the day.
“I met people from Clare, Limerick, Wexford, Waterford and Cork, as well as people from Northern Ireland. It was amazing to see so many travel,” he said. “It brought the community together. So many had to be involved to make it happen so successfully and we were delighted with the response from the local people.
“There was great co-operation with the Gardaí, the GAA allowed us to use their parking facilities, and we had our primary and secondary school parking too, so everybody came forward to offer help.”
Fr Kieran O’Brien, Administrator at St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney said the parish didn’t know what numbers to expect, but they had about 100 stewards working through the course of the day to keep things running smoothly. “It surpassed our expectations. We’d estimate up to 15,000 came through the cathedral on Friday. We really brought the town to standstill,” he said. “Chatting to people we discovered people had come from different parts of the county and outside the county. It was a great success, with a lot of people filing through the cathedral all day, including a lot of young people. There is a great devotion to St Anthony in Killarney because of the Franciscan friary and there were baskets full of petitions. People have their own reasons for coming and we were glad to provide the facility for them.”
The visit of the relics to Knock Shrine on Saturday coincided with the national Polish pilgrimage and the shrine rector, Fr Richard Gibbons said the “crowds were extraordinary throughout the day”. Addressing the congregation attending Saturday evening Mass, Archbishop Michael Neary noted that St Anthony is regarded as “a companion in daily life” or a “kind of big brother who is always present and available when people find themselves beleaguered in different ways”.
“People pray to St Anthony for those who have lost their way in life, asking him to console the suffering and assist the poor,” he said.
There was also a “very good, steady crowd all day” visiting the relics in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sligo on Sunday, according to Fr Declan Boyce SPS. “We had up to 3,000 people or more go through the cathedral that day,” he said. “For a lot of people they always had a devotion to St Anthony and he has always had a special place in their families. A few of them recalled things that they lost and Anthony was there. A lot of them were there for healing as well. The crowd was made up of all ages and a lot of families. A lot of people came from every county all over Ulster or the North West.”
Fr Boyce said one of the highlights of the visit for him was “seeing local people helping the local people”.
“The local parishioners, the cathedral team and ushers were all very good. What’s lovely about the Franciscans is that they left it to the laity to look after the relics while they were there.
“It was the local pastoral team who took charge once they were in the cathedral and it was a real team effort,” he said.