The Gospel from Tal-Ħorr

Perhaps it is not just a worthy Opposition that this country needs in the face of a strong government with a healthy majority; it is also a Catholic Church that is relevant and with a crucial part to play

I listened carefully to the Archbishop’s homily from the neo-Gothic chapel constructed in late 19th century on a barren hill then known as Tal-Ħorr, now the Addolorata cemetery.  

Ħorr in Maltese means ‘free’ and ‘quasi-virginal’, apart from so many other things.

Scicluna lost no time in his homily to make it known what he thought of the 7 June, 1919 centenary anniversary.

He said that in 1919 we, as Maltese subjects, could blame the British for the deprivations and sufferings we experienced. We could even burn the Union Jack, the loquacious and outspoken bishop warned. Once again he was not at all cryptic in his choice of words: the 1919 tragedy could reappear today under different circumstances. He made reference to social injustices today, and emphasised that if a similar ‘uprising’ happened today, we would only have ourselves to blame.

Surely enough, Archbishop Scicluna understands that he has been perceived as having somewhat of an antipathy to the Labour Party – which is fine by most of the world, of course, although he must surely realise how he manages to persistently irk diehard Labourites who see him as conceited in his impartations.

Critics of the Church are the first to point out its very serious errors: in the case of Malta, it historically played a strong part in maintaining the status quo and defending the privileged classes, even opposing workers’ movements, and right up into the 1960s, threatening Labour voters with mortal sin and interdiction from the Church.

Yet the Archbishop has every right and duty to speak up, even when his critics take him to task when needed. Malta might be stuffy and claustrophobic for a Vatican cleric who relishes in his high-profile international role as the Catholic world’s chief inquisitor on clerical sex abuse. Yet, his analysis of a repeat of the 1919 bread riots in the climate of a Labour government’s neo-liberal expansionism seems rather stretched. One might wonder whether such statements are only intended at drawing out those Labour trolls on social media, whose venom makes the news.

I, for one, know that many are the situations that have warranted protests and demonstrations. All those demonstrations we witnessed in the last five years, were also marked by the presence of zealots who, back in the days of the PN administration, had never felt the inclination to protest in the streets, of course. But that sounds like standard politics.

They have been starkly different from the events of the 1950s, right up to the eighties, when protest was met with a disproportionate and ugly response by the police. Not just police brutality marred these proceedings: there were various altercations with members of the hunting community, construction workers, fireworks enthusiasts, hotel owners, and many others who take umbrage when their activities are shown in a bad light. Indeed, I experienced some of this myself as a youth, but that was the time when there was a real serious problem with the rule of law. Quite unlike candles being removed from a national monument.

What happened in 1919 is incomparable. Malta was a colonised nation of poor masses, dependent on bread for their staple diet, suffering the ravages of the war economy from the Great War, with a privileged class unchecked by both imperial powers and the Church establishment. It was ruler and ruled – as simple as that. In this equation of brute capitalist and imperialist hegemony, violence was the only answer in what became a watershed moment for the popular labour movement and Malta’s constitutional development towards self-determination and independence.

The response of the British forces was murder.

Are we now in that same situation? Does Archbishop Scicluna foresee a situation in which the ills of society could be resolved by the necessity of a violent uprising, under pain of the Maltese army and its police force suppressing it by shooting on its citizens?

That inference is not a misrepresentation of his speech. It is simply an observation on why his homily was exaggerated and unwarranted. There is no such meltdown in Malta. And if one watches the body language of the senior clergy around the Archbishop, their discomfort betrays the fact they felt his words were simply illogical and misplaced.

I am hardly an example of piety, but Scicluna’s dedication to the Maltese Catholic community will only have a legacy if it strikes a chord of unity and hope – not one of doom and gloom. Malta’s political situation has been portrayed as tense to foreign observers, but many Maltese feel the antagonism in our politics has been grossly exaggerated. To be fair to Adrian Delia, his arrival on the scene has deflated much of the tension that dominated the Maltese political scene when Simon Busuttil made corruption the sole issue for the Nationalist party, turning every single political exchange into a do-or-die scenario.

Perhaps it is not just a worthy Opposition that this country needs in the face of a strong government with a healthy majority. It is also a Catholic Church that is relevant and with a crucial part to play.
Scicluna might want to detach himself from some personal emotions that seem to be informed by a political hang-up. Perhaps some divine inspiration will shine a light for the Archbishop showing him the way forward for the good of the Church and the community that continues to have hope in it.
We may after all have a politics-free summer. Adrian Delia is anchored to the throne and no one has dared challenge him. This is history repeating itself.

Some believe that to get better it needs to get worse. It will get worse. But as in all things in politics, anything can happen.

What I do know, is that the PN cannot go back to its old ways. As many commentators have said, it needs to reinvent itself. But something cannot reinvent itself without brains and fresh faces. Only time will tell, but my forecast is: cloudy, with a chance of thunderstorms. So not that summery.