Friar Mario Conte stands beside the relic of St Anthony of Padua, placed within a statue of the saint. He conducted a programme of prayers at the Church of St Stephen.Friar Mario Conte stands beside the relic of St Anthony of Padua, placed within a statue of the saint. He conducted a programme of prayers at the Church of St Stephen.Prayers, distribution of blessed bread as relic comes to St Stephen’s Church

A 900-strong crowd comprising Catholics from various parishes packed the Church of St Stephen recently to venerate a relic of St Anthony of Padua (1195-1231).

Conventual Franciscan Friar Mario Conte, upon the invitation of parish priest Fr John Khoo, had brought the relic to the church during his stopover here on June 23.

Fr Khoo had known Fr Mario when the former was parish priest of the Church of St Anthony. In 1996, two of the saint’s relics were brought to that church for veneration.

During the June 23 afternoon programme – a piece of the saint’s skin placed within a gold-coloured statue of St Anthony carrying the child Jesus – was put on a stand beside the altar.

The relic belongs to the Basilica of St Anthony in Padua, Italy, where Fr Mario is based.

The programme began with devotional prayers to St Anthony, followed by Fr Mario blessing what is known as St Anthony’s Bread.

The bread – small loaves wrapped in plastic – was later distributed to the crowd.

Fr Mario told CatholicNews that the tradition of St Anthony’s Bread originated from a miracle that occurred soon after the saint’s death. A little boy had drowned and his mother prayed to St Anthony for help, promising she would donate the child’s weight in grain for the poor if the boy was restored to life.

“The boy arose while the mother was praying. This miracle gave rise to giving alms to the poor, particularly in the form of bread,” said Fr Mario.

He added that venerating a relic is like establishing a connection with the saint and “not an act of superstition or magic”.

“When someone we love passes on, we keep an item belonging to them as a remembrance of our love for them just like how we have St Anthony’s relic,” he said.

In his talk to the crowd, Fr Mario said that being a saint is not about having “super powers”. Rather all people are called to be saints, like St Anthony who led a simple and quiet life and remains popular 800 years after his death, he said.

Many in the crowd later went up close to the statue and prayed in front of the relic.

The afternoon’s programme ended in the evening Mass and the blessing and distribution of St Anthony’s medals to children.

Mr Zavier Paul, who attends Mass at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, told CatholicNews: “Today’s event was special for me because I’m grateful for the many intercessions St Anthony has done for my family. We turn to him for prayers and have devotions to him especially when we need help.”

Ms Juliana Pathy-Gabriel, from the Church of St Vincent De Paul, shared: “During the difficult times in the economy when I asked St Anthony for prayers, I found a good job in spite of the downturn. I had an illness but now it’s all under control.”

By Martin See
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