On connection and Tony, Tony looking around
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Lots of people know that Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost things. "Tony, Tony look around: something's lost that must be found!" people chant in hushed tones when they can't lay their hands on something, and many will tell you that Saint Anthony always comes through for them. I don't think anyone has ever done a scientific study in which, as a control, lost objects are also sought without Tony Tony's help, so the more rational amongst us may be a bit dubious.
Still others may question why Saint Anthony wants to use his connection in the communion of saints to help people find lost keys and earrings. There is, of course, a story behind this. (Isn't there always?) In those pre-printing press days, the story goes that Saint Anthony had annotated a Book of Psalms which he used to teach theology. A nebbishy novice nicked the book, and Saint Anthony prayed for it to be returned, which, of course, it was. Little did Tony Tony know that this would seal his fate of being called upon to have other things returned for centuries to come.
As stories go, I didn't find the one about that lost book too terribly exciting. But I thought a story about finding that book again would be interesting, if it was till around. (I suspected it was - Franciscans don't throw out anything.) So off to Padua I went in search of that book. A rather corpulent friar named Tommaso told me that - of course - the book was still around but it wasn't in Padua, it was in Bologna. I should have just smiled and said thank you, but I had the audacity to ask Tommaso how they knew that the book in Bologna was the book. He looked at me and scrunched up his nose as if my doubt were some malodorous fog. E' vero perchè è sempre stato li'! ("It's true because it's always been there!") he said and, though I didn't quite follow his logic, I just smiled and nodded as one tends to do when dealing with Italian friars.
So off to Bologna I eventually went in search of Saint Anthony's book. I arrived frightfully early on a Friday morning, the 2nd of August, 1985, and made my way to the enormous basilica there. I was informed (rather gruffly) by a yet another corpulent friar (those Franciscans must have some fab cooks) that, yes, the book, existed, but, no, I couldn't see it because it was not on display. I pleaded with him, telling him I didn't have much time and that I had come there specifically to see that book, but he would not be moved. Basta! he said to me – Enough! – spinning around and walking away whilst I tried not to get sucked into his gravitational pull. I went into the church, lit a candle, and lamented the fact that – at least for me – the book was once again lost. “Tony, Tony, look around,” I said under my breath but Saint Anthony obviously had more important things to do.
I looked at my watch: it was 10:00 am and there was a 10:45 train that I could catch, so I made my way back to the station. When I arrived, I was met with a most curious scene: thousands of people crowded outside with scores of television cameras set up all about. Remarkably, not one person in the vast crowd spoke; there were no sounds of trains arriving or departing; no announcements were being made. I had never before been in the presence of so many people in absolute silence: children did not cry; smokers did not cough. There was no sound at all. After some moments, a man decked in an archbishop's purple on a platform began the words of the Lord's Prayer. People joined hands and the thousands were as one, mouthing the familiar words in dozens of different languages. The people on either side of me – both older gentlemen – were weeping.
The prayer ended, a blessing was given and bit by bit the noise of the station returned. I made my way to where the archbishop had been standing to see a plaque with a list of names on it that read 2 Agosto 1980, Vittime del terrorismo fascista (2nd of August, 1980: Victims of Fascist Terrorism) commemorating that day – five years before – when a bomb exploded at 10:25 am, indiscriminately ending the lives of 85 people who had happened to find themselves there at that time, just as I had found myself there at that time five years later.
I stood to read the names and one jumped out at me: Catherine Helen Mitchell, aged 22 - three years older than I was at the time. I imagined her backpacking across Europe, probably with the man who bore the name above her on the plaque, one John Andrew Kolpinski, also 22. I imagined her trekking over to the friary in search of that lost book. I imagined a more congenial friar ushering her deep within the cloistered walls. I imagined her standing in front of that book that was the original reason why everyone invoked dear Tony's name in the first place.
And then I imagined Saint Anthony, baby perched on his arm like a parrot, welcoming Catherine and John into the place prepared for them from all eternity. No more lost things. No more uncertainty. No more suffering. Just that wonderful connection, story upon story which ties into the very story of God himself, pulsing through all of creation. We're connected: you, me, Catherine Helen Mitchell, John Andrew Kolpinski, and dear Saint Anthony. Perhaps now more than ever - especially when it can be harder to see and feel this connection - we need to remind ourselves that it exists. E' vero perchè è sempre stato li'! It has always been there - this time God's logic takes over.
I left to board my train (which would be delayed by an hour and a quarter). I had not found Saint Anthony's book; it had remained lost to me. But I had found Catherine Helen Mitchell and a connection with her. And maybe that understanding of how connected we all are – which I know gets lost in the shuffle of my life from time to time – is what Tony, Tony wanted me to look around and find.