Crowds celebrate Saint Anthony at the National Shrine in Pila

“For every Mass, the church is packed,” said the rector and parish priest. After the ancient church in Pila became a shrine, the number of devotees has been steadily climbing. Volunteers travel everywhere in the Philippines to encourage devotion to Saint Anthony among Catholics.

Pila (AsiaNews) – More than 5,000 people have gathered this afternoon at the national shrine of San Antonio de Padua in Pila (picture 1), Laguna province (south-east of Manila) to take part in celebrations in honour of the Portuguese saint.

"We are celebrating the festivity in a simple but at the same time significant way", said the rector and parish priest Fr Emil A. Urriquia (picture 2).

"At the end of the day, we will have celebrated a total of six Masses: three in the morning and three in the afternoon. Before the last one (6.30 pm), a solemn procession is scheduled. The participation of the faithful is impressive,” he noted.

"For every Mass, the church is packed. Worshippers come from various parts of the country, even from Mindanao (in the south) and Visayas (centre). Before the end of each Mass, we give out the blessed bread to them.".

Fr Urruquia became rector about a week after the ancient church of San Antonio was elevated to the rank of national shrine. By tradition, Saint Antony is the saint to whom one turns to find lost things. But in Pila, he is above all the patron saint of those who have lost their way. Faced with family, work, marital and financial problems, people come here to ask for his intercession.

"I have noticed that number of devotees has been in constant rise since the shrine was established,” Fr Urriquia said. “I am particularly struck by their propensity for prayer. This is also thanks to the work of our promotion group. Volunteers travel to various parts of the Philippines, to encourage the devotion to Saint Anthony among Catholics. We are also helped by new forms of communication. Every Tuesday (devotion day), people can see direct video of the morning and afternoon Mass. The same happens for the Sunday service.”

The increase in visits entails a great deal of work for Fr Urriquia. Devotion to Saint Anthony began in Pila and has grown over time, fuelled by the many graces and miracles obtained through his intercession.

"In my work I am assisted by a priest who lives in the rectory. I try to invite other priests to help us with confessions, which begin in the morning and continue until the evening, the sprinkling of blessed oil and floral offerings. To respond to the growing number of pilgrims, we are making changes to the shrine’s activities.

"Next month we will double the number of Tuesday Masses, from three to six. Plus, there re two holy hours, one at 9 am and the other at 4 pm. Thus, devotees have more choice. "

Finally, Fr Urriquia announced important news concerning the Pila shrine.  "We plan to apply for recognition of the bond of spiritual affinity with the Basilica of Saint Anthony in Padua,” he explained. “Hence, we asked for the support of Filipino Church authorities."

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