Anthony, along with the other Franciscans and the Dominicans, was given the task of correcting the errors of both the Waldensians and the Catharii. The sincere faith and simple life of the Franciscan and Dominican preachers gave power to their words. And they always obeyed the bishops and priests.
Anthony traveled simply, staying with his Franciscan brothers wherever he went. If there was no friary, he often slept outdoors with a rock to support his head. Providence soon brought him to the north Italian town of Rimini, where the Catharii were very strong. Two years earlier a saintly bishop preaching there had barely escaped with this life. When Anthony first arrived, however, as humble and poor as the Catharii, he was barely noticed. In fact the Catharii convinced the people not to go out to hear him at all.
That all changed when Anthony decided that is would be easier to preach to the fish in the nearby river tan to Rimini’s hard-hearted villagers. So, according to the legend, he began calling out, “Hear the word of God you fishes of seas and rivers, since the heretics refuse to listen.” Fish of all kinds came together before him near the bank, with their heads turned in his direction.
Anthony invited them to thank God for their existence, the water where they lived, and their food. He noted how they had been spared during the flood, and had given nourishment to Jesus more than once, as mentioned in the Gospels, and thus had been favored by God. The fish seemed to listen as he called to them loudly, “Blessed be God, since the fishes of the water give Him more honor than the heretics, and the animals who have no reason pay more attention to His word than unbelieving man.”
Those walking by noticed and began to listen. Seeing his crowd grow, Anthony continued to explain the faith to the fish, hoping in this way to teach the people gathered there as well. Many became convinced of the Catholic faith by this event, and afterward many more came to hear him and were converted.
Excerpted from Fr. T. G. Morrow’s book Who’s Who in Heaven. For ordering information, visit our website.