Chile Walks with St. Anthony
St. Anthony (San Antonio) seems to be in our lives a lot these days. I am not sure why this is, but maybe it is because St. Anthony was reportedly a saint “of the people”, and after all is said and done, we at times consider ourselves “The People”. I had no contact with this Saint growing up a Baptist (reticent) in upstate NY, but I ran into San Antonio right away in 1967 when I joined the Peace Corps and went to Chile. Chileans consider San Antonio de Padua to be the saint of lost items, which may be why as a newly arrived Peace Corps Volunteer (non-catholic at that) trying to find my bearings in this strange country, he entered into my consciousness. Often seen holding a child in his arms, this Franciscan teacher who died at the age of 36 is very popular in Chile. Calle San Antonio cuts through the center of downtown Santiago, very close to important landmarks for Peace Corps volunteers in Chile in the late 1960s: The PC Regional Office on the Alameda, Auerbach’s second floor German restaurant where we ate so many lunches, and historical Cerro Santa Lucia, where Pedro de Valdivia founded the city of Santiago in 1541. Not far from where San Antonio crosses the Alameda, there are two San Antonio Churches, one on Calle Carmen, the other on Calle Santiago Concha. In the Fine Arts Museum, there is an interesting painting by Chilean painter Claudio Bravo, entitled “Tentaciones de San Antonio” that, should you bother to see it, is sure to test your feelings about San Antonio, temptation, and Claudio Bravo!
Of course San Antonio is also the name of the major Chilean port, so important for shipping the increasing amount of fresh agriculture exports, especially fruit and wine, to North America and Asia. An imposing, fantastically simple but impressive statue of San Antonio de Padua looks over this port city, where we have always gone willingly to purchase (and consume) fresh seafood. It is also where a Peace Corps colleague and friend, Peter, worked closely for years with artisan fishermen and now runs a successful seafood processing plant. He sends frozen fish and other seafood around the world from San Antonio.
Close by, in the rural town of Chepica, sits the ruins of San Antonio de Chepica church, totally destroyed by the February 27 earthquake that struck so much of this area of Chile. There are plans to rebuild the classic white adobe church, possibly with a very modern structure that, if they do it, so reflects Chile’s drive to not only recover from the destruction of the earthquake but to push Chile into the 21st Century as a developed economy. There are surely other notable reflections of San Antonio de Padua throughout Chile, and I only recently became aware of the 18 year old “Carnaval de San Antonio de Padua”, apparently a colorful two-day festival held in the south-central part of Santiago, near the Franklin neighborhood. I had never heard mention of his festival until I read about it recently on a blog “Revolver”, Santiago Magazine, but now that I have, it is on our “must do” list for the near future.
As fate would have it (I am inclined to tag fate for a lot of what is happening these days, not having a very good alternative explanation), Ximena and I found ourselves face-to-face with San Antonio twice recently, but it was in the US. The first encounter was during a 3-day reunion with my Peace Corps group in, you guessed it, San Antonio, Texas (See earlier posting on this blog “Peace Corps, Texas, and LBJ”, and stay tuned for another posting on this subject coming soon). Shortly after this brush with San Antonio and its Missions, the entertaining riverwalk, the San Antonio River, and Texas hill country, we were in Cortland, New York, on the weekend of June 10-12, 2010, where we unexpectedly again ran into San Antonio de Padua. We were attending a three day “Celebration of Life” marking our good friend Catherine’s 60th birthday, during which our eclectic group of old friends, who have known
Catherine and who have worked together with Catherine when she was Executive Director of the World Food Program, shared fond memories, good music, and the best of New York cuisine including some very good Cayuga Lake wines. From Thursday evening to Saturday night this weekend, while our group of about 150 loosely related disciples of the fight to eliminate global poverty through humanitarian action were celebrating our accomplishments and our friendships, and renewing our commitment to global humanitarian action, the citizens of Cortland were celebrating St. Anthony’s feast day.
This is a wonderful event that culminates a weekend of celebration in downtown Cortland, centered around the Saint Anthony’s church on Pomeroy Street, smack in the middle of a vibrant historically Italian neighborhood. The festival seems to have begun around 1905, and to this day includes lots of traditional Italian food, wine, music, games, dancing, charity fund raising and evening fireworks. The festival culminates each year on the Sunday closest to June 13, St. Anthony’s official feast date, with a mass in the crowded St. Anthony’s church replete with the flying of large Italian Provincial banners, singing by a young boys choir all dressed as Franciscan Monks, and many, many Italian flags, followed by a procession with a statue of St. Anthony through the streets of Cortland. A truly beautiful expression of civic and ethnic pride.
To top off our “Celebration of Life”, our group had been chosen by the organizers of the St. Anthony Festival as special guests to participate in the St. Anthony Day procession on Sunday morning. We formed our group at 9:00 AM in front of the Green Arch Restaurant, around the corner from the church, along with the twenty-plus member Cortland Old Timer’s Band. This fantastic community band, which practices every Wednesday evening throughout the year and performs for several civic events, includes our clarinet-playing “Celebration of Life” hostess Catherine and her professional jazz trumpet player brother Charlie, and one of those fantastic bass drums rolled along on a one-man pull cart. As the mass ended with the boys dressed as Franciscan monks singing an Italian hymn originating from Ferrazzano in the Molisse Province of Italy, our group followed the band into the church, flags waving, and everyone singing.
Immediately after the mass ended, our group of “international visitors” formed a group, with our national and institutional flags flying, behind the Old Timer’s Band, the statue of St. Anthony, and the young boys Franciscan monk choir. In spite of threatening rain, this group wound our way through the streets of the Italian south-side of Cortland, a real spectacle…banners representing the United Nations, World Food Program, Rice University, State of New York, City of Chicago, and national flags of USA, Italy, Mexico, Cameroons, Ireland, and yes….CHILE. Some less-travelled onlookers commented on our “Texas flag”, but we set them straight as to the important distinctions. First I, then Ximena, waved the Chilean flag high throughout the entire procession, for St. Anthony and all of Cortland, New York, to appreciate. We tied with Thomas, our good friend from Cameroons who is now the Regional Director for the World Food Program in West Africa, for having the flag representing the country located farthest from Cortland.
The procession took two rest stops during the one-hour trek through the streets, at which the band played, and we were served Italian foods (hot sausage and fried green peppers on Italian bread, traditional Italian sweets like almond shortbread cookies, and of course, lots of coffee laced with Sambuca (Anisette, in this case). On-lookers waved and cheered us, and we waved and cheered them back. The procession ended in front of a neighborhood bakery, where the owners had prepared pans of pizza just like what you can get in the Roman streets, to be washed down with vino rosso. The coup de grace was a pot of soup made with beans, cabbage and hot Italian
sausage. Having indulged in all the camaraderie and nourishment of the moment, and seeing that St. Anthony was going back into his home on Pomeroy St., we decided to depart Cortland, NY, and move on to our next adventure. But in the future, we won’t be able to see St. Anthony, nor Chile’s many San Antonios, without reflecting on the day we were part of Cortland New York’s celebration of deep civic pride, along side our old friends and colleagues from the humanitarian relief community who celebrated life on that weekend in June 2010.
Written in Mclean, VA, on June 19, 2010.