History of Saint Anthony’s Charities

History of Saint Anthony’s Charities

Saint Anthony’s Charities was born in 1976 but has a century-long tradition. It originates from St. Anthony’s Bread, the first charitable work, founded at the Basilica of Saint Anthony in 1898 to coincide with the first issue of the Messenger of Saint Anthony. The Word and action, the Gospel and charity, the heart of St. Anthony’s values, and the foundations of the periodical.

St. Anthony’s Bread refers to an episode told in the Rigaldina, the oldest life of St. Anthony. A Paduan mother, who lived near the Basilica during its construction, had left little Thomas, her 20 month old son, alone in the kitchen. The little boy, while playing, ended up head first in a tub of water. His mother found him lifeless. She screamed desperately but she didn’t give up. She called on the Saint. She made a vow: if she obtained grace, she would donate to the poor bread equal to the weight of her son to the poor. Her prayer was answered.

When in the Basilica, St. Anthony’s Bread was set up, this organisation was already a world-wide tradition. Before 1898, pilgrims were surprised not to find it set up in the place which looks after the Saint’s mortal remains. However, when the Messenger of Saint Anthony took over its patronage, the work spread like wild fire in many Italian and foreign parishes.

They were times of great poverty but also of incredible generosity. The Messenger keeps a list of the readers’ donations offered for bread. The list increases constantly. In fifty years, the organisation was able to distribute over 50 thousand kilos of bread and also other general food products in lesser quantities. The charitable donations didn’t even lessen in more difficult moments such as between the two wars.

The needs of the poor evolved over time and shortly after St. Anthony’s Bread, the Pious organisation for soup for the poor (1947) and the organisation for wood for the poor (1948). A more complete diet and the chance to keep warm were the most compelling needs after the war.

The birth of Saint Anthony’s Charities, as it is known today, was preceded by a development within St. Anthony’s Bread. In 1951, the organisation donated $1,400 to Polesine flood victims. This wasn’t a unique case. In 1956, financial support for Hungarian refugees followed, from 1964 to 1966 for world hunger, in 1966 for flood victims in Florence, in 1967 for Lisbon’s flood victims and in 1971 for Pakistan. Something was changing: the standard of living was rising in Italy. Thanks to information provided by the mass media, attention was being paid to the Third World.

Around the mid ’70s, the Basilica’s charitable works were many and varied. The need to make progress and create a single body which looked after both national and international interests was felt. And not just Paduan interests. The Friars’ Chapter in 1976 was the turning point: it was agreed that a new body should be created, Saint Anthony’s Charities. From 1976 to 1979 it was still quite an informal organisation. Two friars ran it, Guido Masnovo and Franco Bonafè. The first project was for earthquake survivors in Friuli, North Italy (1976).

Saint Anthony’s Charities received its first investiture in the next statute and internal regulation, approved by the Provincial definitor – the self-governing organ of the Minor Conventual Friars- on 29 October 1979: “the Province’s charitable works must be organised in a more united fashion, inspired by preventative criteria and the systematic promotion of the needs of people in difficulty, both with urgent interventions, and more long-term programmes, in particular chosen areas”.
A fundamental principle was expressed for the first time: the importance of not limiting oneself to simple assistance but to take steps towards more long-term projects, capable of limiting the causes of poverty. The goal is “to carry out, in an organic way, appropriate to the social demands of the time, the commitment which the Province itself of the Basilica’s friars have towards the associates of the “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, and other donors, who delegate the Province to provide charitable and promotional help as far as possible in the name of St Anthony “.

These days, presiding Saint Anthony’s Charities is the Minister Provincial’s duty. The activities are principally carried out by the secretary though, aided by the direct advice of religious and voluntary lay people.

Despite the intentions to increase the geographical areas covered by interventions abroad, during the first ten years of Saint Anthony’s Charities, it was difficult to cross national borders. The accounts show very long lists of sums of money given to individual people in need of food, and to help pay bills, rent or school fees etc. Respite interventions were more common within Italy.

But the situation was changing. An article in June 1985, which came out in a special edition to celebrate 1000 copies of the Italian “Messenger of Saint Anthony”, listed all the countries aided by Saint Anthony’s Charities: Uganda, Ghana, Thailand, Korea, India, Philippines, Latin America, Poland. The innovation lay in the fact that Father Stefano Poletto, secretary of Saint Anthony’s Charities from 1979 to 1989, had begun to create links with missionaries, especially those linked to the Order. This was the basis for improvement.

A further push in this direction was received by the next secretary of Saint Anthony’s Charities, Pietro Beltrame (1989-1994). He’d been a missionary for many years in Latin America, he knew extreme poverty having seen it at first hand. He knew that the need at home, however serious, was never desperate. Other people could also assist: the communes, the parishes, the charities linked to dioceses,… There are areas in the world which are completely abandoned, the inhabitants haven’t the minimum hope of survival. Reaching out where there is no hope could be the answer for Saint Anthony’s Charities. Charitable acts had to be reconsidered once again.

Above all, Father Pietro redefined spheres of action of Saint Anthony’s Bread and Saint Anthony’s Charities, which often got mixed up. The change began with the physical change of base: Saint Anthony’s Bread remained in the road via Orto Botanico, Saint Anthony’s Charities moved to the nearby road, via Donatello. One looked after the poor who knocked on the Basilica’s door: vagrants, old people, immigrants, families in difficulty; the other concerned itself with projects in countries of the Third World.

These days Saint Anthony’s Charities is not institutionalised. The desire of the Friars is to ensure it remains active, quick, and without bureaucratic apparatus which could swallow up funds from those who need it. It functions thanks to the Friars and volunteers. Three times a year members of the directing council meet and evaluate the requests for help. The atmosphere is friendly and convivial, but the criteria for the selection of projects are very precise:

1. Reach out to those furthest away. This does not mean favouring poor countries over rich ones, but instead identifying the most depressed areas of a country and, within these areas, the most rejected people: children with respect to adults, women with respect to men, natives with respect to the rest of the population.
2. Fund suggested projects organised and requested by the public. Make use of their help in the carrying out of the projects and in the collection of funds. Avoid imposing the developing world’s model. Each population feels the force of its own liberation and it knows better than anyone else its own needs and limits.

3. Show a preference for small, sustainable projects. avoid carrying out projects which are beyond the capabilities and sensibilities of the people. A little school is better than a large college, a small casualty department rather than a costly hospital, an artisan workshop rather than a factory using technology which isn’t easily available.

4. Give preference to projects of development rather than projects of assistance. It is essential to beat the causes of poverty, giving people the means to walk on their own two feet. In cases of emergency, when solutions prove difficult and lengthy, aid is guaranteed to relieve suffering. For example, in the case of war, epidemics or natural catastrophes.

5. Carry out several projects in the same area. This enables the elimination of several causes of poverty, facilitating the comprehensive development of the people. Multiple projects are also the safest as they are based on consolidated relationships with people who come from the area and who have a deeper understanding of the problems.

The relationship between Saint Anthony’s Charities and the Messenger of Saint Anthony is very close. The two realities, while existing in their own right, are in harmony. These days, the magazine is the means of linking the aid organisation to its supporters. It has assumed an even more important role in the last 14 years.
Beforehand, Saint Anthony’s Charities, dealt with the donations to charitable aid which arrived at the Messenger, and rarely appeared on the pages of the magazine. It seemed more important to do than be seen.

It thus had to wait until 1988 to have articles dedicated to its activities.In 1988, a new tradition began.

Every 13 June, on the occasion of the Saint’s Feast Day, Saint Anthony’s Charities points out to the readers of the Messenger the three most demanding projects of the year, inviting them to participate in their realisation. This is a way of adapting to the times: poverty is a world-wide phenomenon and we feel impotent regarding the suffering of many populations across the world. Through the Messenger, the readers become a device for development and liberation, a new way of applying the Gospel according St. Anthony’s teaching.

Until 1990, articles which concerned Saint Anthony’s Charities were found in the May edition, with a report on the projects from the 13 June of the preceding year, and in June there was the presentation of the new projects. In reality, there are many projects to do with Saint Anthony’s Charities. The institution was under-represented in the eyes of its supporters. Father Pietro Beltrame became aware of this and in 1991 he ensured that a regular column was inserted in the Messenger.

Further information triggered a relationship of greater faith and participation with its supporters. Quite unexpectedly, the number of charitable donations increased, and as a result the number of projects carried out. Some were very small, costing only a few thousand dollars: a well, a used minibus, an animal to be reared; others were more complicated because they tried to eliminate the causes of poverty and trigger self-development. The evaluating and controlling commitment grew.

Father Luciano Marini (1994-1997), Father Pietro Beltrame’s successor, drew up the first triumphant tri-annual balance sheet 1994-1996, Saint Anthony’s Charities’ most profitable period at that moment in time. 170 projects, carried out and dispatched by him and by Father Pietro, in a crescendo of commitment and involvement: 30 projects in 1994, 55 in 1995 and 85 in 1996. These are years which are mostly characterised by great commitment to the street children of Brazil and the rescue of child prostitutes: places of retreat are financed which reproduce the family model, professional schools, small artisan workshops, institutes which are responsible for children with previous convictions.

But the solidarity of St. Anthony follows other important trends:

  • professional instruction and the setting up of micro enterprises for poor families;
  • right of Indians and women;
  • the looking after of the old and handicapped who have been abandoned;
  • health;
  • housing for the homeless;
  • access to drinking water;


The projects affect many countries across the world, especially in Latin America, in Asia and in Africa up to Eastern Europe and sometimes Italy. Owing to immigration, the poor are among us. It’s important to show willing to help resolve two of the problems of this day and age: the lack of housing for immigrant families and the rescue of girls forced into prostitution.

Today the secretary is Father Luciano Massarotto (since 1997), of the founders of Saint Anthony’s Charities. A new way of thinking began with him, which had already started among his predecessors. There are many projects which have been carried out, but courage was needed to take it one step further, to enter into discussion and try and work out the principal causes of poverty. The solutions are difficult and often, beyond the means of this little institution. And yet, something could still be done straight away.

The first point of arrival was already in the embryo stage, in the form of many projects of St. Anthony’s Charities. There are so many cases of children, the old, the sick and the handicapped being abandoned, of the spread of illiteracy, of poor people dying because of non-serious illnesses or due to a lack of minimal levels of hygiene and many other individual cases, but one which stands out above them all: the economic, social and cultural fragility of women.

This conclusion, matured out of the experience of missionaries, has been consolidated by the findings of the United Nations: 70 % of the poor are women, 75 % of refugees and two thirds of the illiterate world-wide are women, 828 million women carry out two thirds of the world’s work and they receive in return one tenth of the world income, and one hundreth of disposable goods. The bringing up of their children and of the weak weighs on their shoulders but they also work in the fields and in other productivity sectors. It is clear that stengthening the position of women also signifies improving the condition of all those who depend on them. Work for women and with women is in fact becoming a regular feature in Saint Anthony’s Charities.

Another way of improving aid for the poor is that of ethical financing and the diffusion of information concerning how to live a more simple life, respecting nature and the rights of the people. Saint Anthony’s Charities does this in many ways: using micro credit for some development projects, entrusting the collected funds to the Ethical Bank, contributing information to this site.

Since 2005 St. Anthony’s Charities has been directed by Father Valentino Maragno, who has brought along his rich and varied experience in the field of international solidarity. Fr. Maragno, however, was certainly no stranger to our organisation; he had already served as a board member (1997), and as Secretary to the Missions.
In his capacity as director, Fr. Maragno has introduced the idea of ‘networking’ to streamline our operations. By networking is meant the capacity to connect people, associations, government boards, resources and know-how (both local and external), in an overall strategy for a more efficient attack on the root causes of poverty.

Networking works at two different levels. The first level comes into play in the design phase of a project, where the same resources can be used for more than one service. The second level is seen when more than one association or working-team participate in the same project, with each group bringing its own specific skills and financial contribution.
The June 2006 projects are a good example of this: The networking of various associations and teams is being used in the reconstruction projects of the medical clinics in the Uige province in Angola. The various components of this network are an NGO called Cuamm medici con l’Africa, the Angolan state health authorities, St. Anthony’s Charities, the diocese of Uige, and the European Union. It was only by amalgamating all these forces that this vast and elaborate project could successfully get underway.

An example of the first level of networking can be seen in another project underway in Zway, Ethiopia. Around water wells a number of orchards, farms for livestock, medical clinics, schools and vocational training centres for women have sprung up. This all-inclusive project was designed together with the locals, and is aimed at eradicating the root causes of poverty in that region.
The most important initiatives are often pilot projects which can then be replicated in other areas around the world with similar contingencies. Many of these projects are based upon the idea of micro-credit. This consists in granting small loans (either of money or work tools), to single individuals or households, who will then set up small businesses to attain greater economic independence.

In the 30 years of our existence our solidarity has strengthened its outreach. We’ve learned from experience that 1 charity is ever on the search for new solutions, and that it must adapt itself to the real needs, ideas and values of the peoples and nations receiving it.

Source http://www.caritasantoniana.it/ing/pagina.asp?id=2

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