I’m not Catholic, but I am a church junkie. I love wandering the hallowed spaces built by generations of men, hundreds of years ago, sometimes dying for their art or trade. I am humbled by these spaces — they are so grand, so large, especially in Europe, of course, that standing in the center of one and looking up makes you feel and realize how small you really are.
But within these massive churches, cathedrals, basilicas you will find small intimate chapels cordoned off for particular saints. There is always one for Mother Mary, and I always make a donation and light a candle… “Mother Mary, come to me… speaking words of wisdom, let it be…”
Many years ago, I discovered Saint Anthony. Again, not being Catholic, these saints were a total mystery to me. But Saint Anthony seemed like a fun saint — an introductory saint if you will to the uninitiated Catholic. Saint Anthony is mostly known as “The Finder of Lost Things.” I thought, how cool, let’s pray to Saint Anthony to find my lost car keys, find my lost money… this Saint stuff is awesome!
Until one day in 1999, when I went to Padua (or Padova as it is known in Italian), which is a 10-minute train ride outside of Venice where there is the Basilica of Saint Anthony, pictured above. It is firmly planted and massive in its surroundings of the sweet college town of Padua. I went in to explore on that fateful day in 1999 and discovered something that brought me to my knees — my first true religious experience outside of a Cure concert a decade before in Dodger’s Stadium… there, inside, was an enormous tomb, the tomb of Saint Anthony, and it was covered in pictures, as far as man could reach, of lost children, lost family members, letters praying to Saint Anthony to please help them find their lost loved ones… There were people there who had made pilgrimages from far away lands, laying their hands on the tomb, praying with such faith. That was something I had never known… Faith. Believe. Let it be.
That day changed me forever. On any of my travels, wherever I might be, I would enter a church to see if it contained a small capella for Saint Anthony. Some did, some didn’t. But I did find him in a few churches in Spain, and I found him at Sacre-Coeur in Paris. And it became my own ritual: I would silently make an offering to Mother Mary, and then an offering to Saint Anthony, with not so much a prayer (because prayer was still foreign to me) but a wish, the same wish I would wish when blowing out candles or when my mother and I lock pinkies when we say the same word at the same time: “I wish for happiness.” I didn’t feel it was right to make an outright declaration of prayer, since I wasn’t Catholic, but I thought a wish couldn’t hurt.
When I started going to Venice on a truly regular basis about 5 years ago, I came across the Frari. It is one of the greatest churches in the city. And there, I would make a stop, once each trip, to light a candle and make an offering to Saint Anthony: “I wish for happiness.”
And then, on June 2, 2012, Adam walked into my life in a little Italian (of course) coffee kiosk called Caffe Bellagio in Santa Monica, California, and my world changed in an instant. When I invited him to Venice that following February, I took him to the Frari, and I did my same ritual, but instead of saying my same wish, all I could say was “Thank you.” And I cried. And that is all I have said since then to Saint Anthony… “Thank you.” Thank you for finding my heart, thank you for finding my happiness, thank you for finding my twin. I have no more wishes to make.
Fast forward to our apartment hunting in Venice, which has been extremely difficult and painful, because we have been rejected at every turn, because we have our furry family, Hambone, Cubby Petunia, and Cornbread. I hate to even write this because I am superstitous and I don’t want to jinx it, but we are nearly about to close on an apartment in Campo dei Frari, with an unobstructed view of the Frari, the very place I made so many wishes. This is not lost on me, nor should it be lost on anyone else, that if this isn’t a sign, I don’t know what a sign would be.
Our apartment would be on the third floor, with the balcony, looking straight out to the Frari Church. And on the wall to the right, just above the awning is a plaque that reads “Campo dei Frari.” We should know for sure in a week or so if it’s ours.
Well, Saint Anthony, maybe I have just one last wish. Thank you.