Celebrating the feast of our patron St. Anthony of Padua on June 13 of this year 2020, was an event we both anticipated and felt anxious about because of the COVID 19 pandemic, the restrictions of the Community Quarantine, and the challenge of keeping St. Anthony Shrine safe for the devotees who will attend the Masses, since our area, Sampaloc, had the highest number of cases in Manila during April and May.
From the usual 12 Masses we have during fiesta, the Franciscan friars decided to have 8 instead, with 30-minute intervals for sanitizing the church in between; the Youth, Greeters and Collectors with servers from other Ministries all helped in the sanitation process.
For those who cannot attend physically (as this was not yet encouraged), because of their age or lack of means of transportation, online mass on Facebook live was made available through the shrine’s Facebook page: St.AnthonyShrine.Sampaloc. With the help of the Social Communicators from another Franciscan church and equipment donated by generous devotees, all the Masses throughout the day were broadcasted live.
Despite the threat of the virus and the availability of an online mass, many devotees still flocked to the shrine to attend the Masses and celebrate the feast of St. Anthony presided by Most Rev. Broderick Pabillo, Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, at 6:30 p.m. Seating 3 persons per pew for physical distancing, others were not able to enter the church and stayed at the patio (still maintaining distance) to attend the Bishop’s mass.
“Ang karunungan na galing sa Diyos ay mahalaga pa kaysa ginto, kaysa pilak, at ito dapat ang hahanapin natin… Wisdom coming from God is more than just mere knowledge, hindi po lamang ito kaalaman, ngunit kasama po sa karunungang ito ay ang pagtupad ng mga aral… ang taong marunong isinasabuhay niya ang kanyang kaalaman, kaya siya ay banal, hindi lang niya naisasabuhay kundi naibabahagi rin niya sa iba,” Bishop Pabillo said, pertaining to the message of the first reading from the Book of Wisdom and how St. Anthony of Padua highly valued the Gospel and its proclamation that it reflected on everything he did and how he lived a holy life.
The Bishop continued by narrating the highlights of St. Anthony’s life, commemorating this year as the 800th anniversary of St. Anthony’s Franciscan vocation, the saint’s desire to become a missionary and how it is still relevant to this day. As we are challenged to become missionary disciples, we should not be afraid or ashamed to preach the Gospel and share our faith like St. Anthony of Padua.
In the topic of preaching the Gospel, the Bishop also remarked how the internet is now being used as a major instrument in sharing our faith, through online events like the live streaming of Masses. He told the story of how a protestant pastor who was a member of the Philippine Bible Society called him “bishop.” The man commended Bishop Pabillo who presides the 10 am online Sunday Mass because according to him, he learned a lot from the Bishop especially in the growth of his faith. Bishop Pabillo then said, “Preach the Gospel then, even through simple things like sharing and posting on Facebook.”
Wisdom from God was St. Anthony’s most precious possession, and he shared it generously with everyone. He embraced St. Francis’ teaching of poverty and helped the poor. St. Anthony was a champion of the oppressed. “Like St. Anthony’s Bread,” the Bishop said, it began as giving alms to the poor in thanksgiving for answered prayers, simple things like a piece of bread; “we don’t have to be rich to be able to help the poor, even a few cents, like Pondo ng Pinoy, we can help others in need.”
St. Anthony is most popular as the saint we turn to when we lost things. Bishop Pabillo said, “we should ask St. Anthony to help us find our lost zeal, lost knowledge of God, lost compassion, lost accountability to the truth, and even lost freedom, as we are being threatened of losing our freedom because of our government’s decisions, like the Anti-Terror Bill. These are what we should ask St. Anthony to help us find.”
Fr. Cielito Almazan OFM, the Minister Provincial of the Order of Friars Minor, Fr. Jose Litigio OFM, a Commissary of the Holy Land, and other Franciscan Friars assigned at St. Anthony Shrine concelebrated the Mass. The present shrine rector, Fr. Christopher Tibong OFM did not concelebrate because he chose to be the organist during the Mass since the number of servers at the altar were restricted. The Mass lasted for almost an hour, giving the devotees a chance to return to their homes before the curfew.
This was the oddest celebration of St. Anthony’s feast we ever had, maybe even in the living memory of the devotees, only except those who lived before the Second World War. There were fewer festivities and more emphasis on safety, people’s movement inside the church and sanitation; and yet it was also a time of solidarity, where everyone did their best to help make the celebration meaningful and safe for everyone else. (Vlad R. Ables/SOCOM-St. Anthony Shrine, Vicariate of Our Lady of Loreto)