Michaela Muscat speaks to Joe Micallef Stafrace about his marriage with Yvonne in the sacristy of the St Paul’s church in Rabat at the height of the politico-religious battle in the sixties
Tying the knot during the interdiction is not the only thing former Labour ministers Joseph Micallef Stafrace and Lino Spiteri have in common.
“Both Lino and I got married at the same sacristy – that of St Paul’s because our prospective wives were both from Rabat,” says the 72-year-old Micallef Stafrace, the obstreperous lawyer who can still be found counselling his clients in the legal office he shares with two of his three children.
Micallef Stafrace eagerly shuffles through the towers of legal documents on his imposing desk to find the book that holds his collection of articles he had written for It-Torca. The article titled ‘Six years of marriage’ tells the detailed story of his wedding ceremony.
“Besides not being able to receive the holy sacraments, the interdiction had a direct impact on me because I wanted to get married.” In an attempt “to humiliate” them, the Micallef Stafrace couple and their guests had to enter the church from the side entrance and endure their wedding rites to be celebrated in a dimly lit sacristy.
“The witnesses at our wedding had no qualms about being present as Guze Muscat Azzopardi was a left-wing writer and Magistrate John Formosa was a member of Strickland’s constitutionalist party. That made him a veteran of religious persecution,” he chuckled as he pointed to the black and white wedding photo. He is of course referring to Strickland’s clash with the ecclesiastical authorities in 1930.
The fervent members of the Catholic Workers Youths waiting for the newly married couple made it a point to create a rebus. “I remember them shouting ‘Hail Christ King’ and other nonsensical phrases,” Micallef Stafrace says.
“A good number of people didn’t attend the wedding party because they were scared their attendance would be interpreted as political. But even Guido De Marco attended my wedding. As far as he was concerned, his friend Joe was getting married and that was the end of it.”
Micallef Stafrace’s will remained strong as he resisted Archbishop Mikiel Gonzi’s attempted bribery to convince him to convert. He was invited to the Curia where he was told that he could get married in the Mdina co-cathedral or in Gonzi’s personal chapel in exchange for allowing Gonzi to save his soul.
Walking into Gonzi's office for a personal meeting with the bishop, he saw him perched on an elevated throne like a regent. Only then did he realise that all the priests were finding excuses to run errands in the surrounding rooms in order to observe “the infamous enemy of Christ.”
Gonzi retorted: “you have to endure the humiliation,” when Micallef Stafrace asked if it was possible to get married in a deserted chapel.
The former Labour MP says he ignored the priests who frequently made allegations about his integrity during mass, except for one episode when the Zurrieq Parish priest mentioned his wife during the homily. Clearly protective of his family and the private dimension of his life, the man appears pained when recalling the congregations walking by his house, insulting him just as they returned from mass.
Micallef Stafrace say the Maltese people have matured as a result of these events, certain that the people have learnt their lesson and choose with their conscience: “They give unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is his.”