What made the great St Anthony of Padua (doctor of the Church and great miracle worker – you may know him as patron saint of finding lost things!) make that big decision to join the fledgling Franciscan Friars? He was a young man named Ferdinand in his mid-twenties and already a priest (he was an Augustinian Canon) living in Coimbra, Portugal when he encountered some friars for the first time. These friars were Saint Berard and Companions (their feast day is today!). They were five in number and had just been commissioned by St Francis of Assisi to be missionaries of the Gospel to the Saracens in Morocco. The friars arrived in Coimbra where they were given hospitality by the young Ferdinand and he was impressed by their apostolic zeal, their love for the Gospel and the simplicity and holiness of their lives.
The friars, ardent in their love for Christ and desirous for the conversion and salvation of souls, set off for Morocco and attempted to preach Christ to the king there. They were arrested, imprisoned, starved, beaten and tortured. Firm in their resolve to the very end, the king himself slew the friars with the sword and they became the first martyrs of the Franciscan Order (which had only been founded by St Francis eleven years earlier).
When St Francis heard of the death of these five friars he said, “Now I can truly say that I have five friars minor” i.e. five lesser brothers. The bodies of the friars were ransomed and brought back through Coimbra and when Fr Ferdinand saw them he was inspired to add himself to their number to become a heroic witness to Christ - with the hope of sacrificing himself for Christ as a friar minor like them. He entered the Order and took the religious name Anthony. He remained a friar until his death at the young age of 35 (we will speak about his amazing life in a future blog post!). May we too, like St Anthony, be inspired by the total and selfless gift of the lives of these first five Franciscan martyrs, and endeavour to make of ourselves, too, heralds of the Gospel for the good of our brothers and sisters.
The video below is a brief account of their martyrdom: