The life and Christian experience of St. Anthony of Padua arises in an era of great historical, social and spiritual changes. It would be impossible to understand the depth and the meaning of this great figure of Catholicism without taking into account the historical environment in which he grew up, was trained and knew his consecration. The years when St. Anthony of Padua lived are those considered the end of the Middle Ages. Europe is shocked by profound and irreversible changes, from all points of view. The birth of Municipalities is poised to fundamentally change the local political conception. The urbanization and the merging into the city by artisans, merchants, bankers and new professionals creates the basis for a new social class, the bourgeoisie, which is added to the knights, the clergy and the nobility.
The Church too is not immune to the changes, particularly in light of the emergence of Cathedrals as a place of assembly and religious centers, for the succession of nine Crusades, but also to the desire for renewal of the clergy, in need of finding in their origins the path for their future. During these years new religious orders are born, which impose themselves not only in ecclesiastical groups but, by their very nature, affect the history and social life. We talk for example of the Dominicans and the Franciscans, of whom St. Anthony of Padua was eminent member.
Eldest son of a noble and wealthy family from Lisbon, Portugal (he will take the name ‘of Padua’ because in that city he will conduct his most significant activities), since he was young St. Anthony of Padua manifested the love for learning, for the contemplative life and a willingness to embrace the priesthood. The example of the first Franciscans martyred in Africa in fulfilling their mission of evangelization prompted him to choose the Franciscan Order. St. Anthony of Padua in Italy had the opportunity to meet St. Francis and from this meeting he drew new strength and enthusiasm for his evangelical and human mission.
As well as a preacher and proud supporter of the Franciscan ideology, St. Anthony of Padua is also demonstrated an unyielding champion against heresy, deserving the nickname of malleus hereticorum, the hammer of heretics. Remembered as much for his many miracles and for his infinite knowledge of the Gospel, St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of the poor, the hungry and of lost property.
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