by Fr. Mario Conte OFM Conv.
ONE OF THE BEST-LOVED images of St. Anthony depicts him holding baby Jesus in his arms. According to tradition, Anthony was severely ill in the last month of his life and he retired to Camposampiero to try and regain his health. His breath came with difficulty, his limbs were deformed by dropsy and he could only walk with great pain. He sometimes suffered sudden attacks of dizziness, and his whole body was racked by convulsive shuddering. His stomach rejected all nourishment. His nights were spent in his little room in the friary.
It is believed that during one of these nights of torment, St. Anthony was offered miraculous comfort. While he was absorbed in contemplation, a shining light transformed his miserable cell, and from this halo Jesus appeared in the form of the infant. The divine guest came smiling to the side of his friend, stroking his brow with his tiny hand.
Centuries have passed, but the image of St. Anthony with the baby Jesus in his arms, has become one of the most diffused images world-wide of the most popular saint of Catholicism, because the child, indeed every child, is a symbol of transparency, innocence and fragility… but also of God’s great love for mankind. A God who turns Himself into a child to be closer to human beings.
Bearing all of this in mind, for the month of June, we would like to present you with three projects on behalf of African children, to stop them from contracting AIDS. These projects are described on pages 38-41.
As everyone knows, the geographical area most afflicted by AIDS is Africa. Out of nearly three million AIDS-related deaths last year, 80% were, in fact, African. But what is worse is that 470,000 children under 15 years of age die of AIDS every year, 90% of which contract the disease from their mothers. Out of thirty children born to HIV-positive mothers, approximately ten contract the disease during birth, while four contract it while being breast-fed. The majority of these children don’t make it to five years old. Young Africans also contract the disease during sexual relations, and in this case, girls are most at risk. Many young girls are, in fact, raped by men who are convinced that making love with a virgin will cure them from AIDS, a belief which, unfortunately is widespread in Africa.
By the end of this year, the HIV virus will have created many more orphans, adding to the figure of 13 million little ones who have already lost their parents. In countries in which incidences of HIV are high, the number of children who have lost their parents has quadrupled between 1994 and 1997. And this number continues to grow. In Africa, young people make up the majority of the population and AIDS is transforming them into a lost generation, without hope or opportunities. They are the innocent victims of poverty and of economic and social imbalance which involves us all. We cannot ignore them. We must accept them as our children, carrying out a simple act, like that of holding a child in your arms, which, while certainly not enough to heal the pain, is full of meaning. So, with your help and through the tireless work of Saint Anthony’s Charities, we would like to once again undertake a gesture of love on the occasion of St. Anthony’s feast day.
Our beloved saint always believed in the goodwill of men and women. In one of his sermons, he invites us to behave like the fig tree, the most fertile of plants, because it bears fruit three times a year, and while one crop is ripening, the other begins to grow. It is the symbol of fraternal charity, more fertile than all other virtues because it corrects those who make a mistake, forgives those who offend, feeds the hungry, and while it is intent upon carrying out an act of mercy, it is already thinking about another such act.