Becoming a Brother to ‘Il Santo’
A First Encounter in Italy
The first time that I ‘met’ St. Anthony of Padua, I was with other Franciscan students in Italy preparing to profess solemn vows, our permanent commitment to live the Way of the Gospel as Franciscan Friars. We stayed in Rome for a week, then spent four weeks in Assisi and the surrounding areas walking in the paths of our brother Francis. At the end, we spent a week in one of the early hermitages established by Francis for himself and for the brothers.
Our week was spent at Monte Casale, a friary in Tuscany. The Capuchin Friars who live there received us with great hospitality and assigned us to cells in the original hermitage. My cell (about 8’x 8’ / 2.4m x 2.4m) with a little square portal window overlooked an inner courtyard with a fountain in the center.
In the hallway just outside the cell’s door, there was a door leading to the sacristy and chapel. Beyond the door were also four more cells. These cells would have been used by the friars whose names were on the doors: San Bonaventura! Sant’Antonio!
I stopped dead in my tracks! They were not just “Saints,” but friars like us; men like us – seeking a way of understanding of openness to the Gospel Life! Anthony and Bonaventure could no longer be archived as “just saints” from the distant past, but instead “brothers sleeping in the next rooms!”
Ysleta Mission/Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in El Paso, Texas
Almost 30 years later, I was assigned to a parish in El Paso, Texas, called Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But before the parish was re-named Mt. Carmel, it had been La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio del Ysleta del Sur.
Today, the complex of buildings carries both names, with parishioners claiming the patronage of one or the other or both. Now an urban parish, Ysleta del Sur still carries an older Pueblo mission identity and membership. About a third of the parish membership are Indigenous People who preserve and celebrate the two Ways of Native Faith and Christian Faith.
This led to a new encounter of my brother Anthony.
The parish celebrates two patrons: St. Anthony on June 13 and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on July 16. The years I served at Ysleta, through eight Easters and eight Feasts of St. Anthony, took me to another level of relationship with Il Santo (The Saint) – “my brother” became “my companion” and “my father.”
A tradition I observed there was the ‘pagar promesa’ during the Feast of St. Anthony. People make a petition to San Antonio to accompany them in their daily lives. On the Feast Day, the people approach the doors of the Mission Church on their knees and receive a ‘castigo’ from Pueblo leadership. One year I asked if I could participate – the part of approaching on my knees. I asked first, because I did not want to appropriate an action of the people’s faith practice. I was told yes and have participated in this whenever I am in attendance since.
I thought approaching on my knees was about me. I quickly discovered, though, that it was about the Pueblo and the people. I have never approached the Mission alone. Each time I engage, I find a person on my right and on my left supporting me under my arms to share my burden and to share their lives with me. St. Anthony is accompanying us – my wingfolk being Anthony for me as they ask me to be Anthony with them. San Antonio, our Creator’s servant, draws us to hope and cares for us as a father.
friar Charles McCarthy OFM Conv.