If you grew up in a Catholic household you may have learned as a child to pray a little prayer to St. Anthony of Padua (whose feast day is today, June 13) whenever you lost your keys or wallet or the remote control for the TV. At first glance it doesn't seem like a silly little prayer like that has too much in the way of deeper meaning...but it kind of does...
A lot of the great basilicas and cathedrals of the world can seem more like tourist destinations than places of prayer, that is not the case for the beautiful Basilica di Sant'Antonio da Padova in northeastern Italy. Every day hundreds of people visit this church with pictures and mementos from loved ones who have gone missing, praying to God together with St. Anthony that they might be safely found. It is a powerful sight to see so many people turning to God when it seems like all hope is lost--when they need the Holy Spirit the most. It is a tragic and heartbreaking ordeal to endure and it remains a major problem the world over. According to FBI statistics each day 700 children are abducted in the United States alone, add to that the thousands of victims of kidnapping and human trafficking every day throughout the world and it becomes apparent that perhaps now more than at any other time in history we are in the midst of a missing persons epidemic. For the thousands of pilgrims to St. Anthony's shrine in Padua, it is faith and prayer that offers the strength to continue the search for loved ones, even after many years, and to find hope in God when the outlook is bleak.
While many of the prayers at the Basilica di Sant'Antonio are petitions, there are also prayers of thanksgiving. Each day hundreds of pilgrims return there to give thanks to God that their child, loved one, or friend has been returned safely.
Today on the feast of St. Anthony we pray together with all those who are lost throughout the world and their families-- that they may find comfort in their fear, hope in their despair, and the strength of the Holy Spirit in their most difficult hour.