Letters: 28 September 2014

Evangelization and the family are bishops' great challenges

Next month bishops from around the world are convening in Rome to attend an Extraordinary Synod on the ‘Pastoral challenges for the family in the context of evangelisation’. The synod will be followed up in September 2015 by the ordinary assembly which will again discern ‘the family’.

During the synod they will discern the theme basing their studies on a document that was prepared on the basis of a questionnaire, which assessed where Catholics stand on issues relating to family morality.

The subject matter of this synod, chosen by Pope Francis should not surprise those who have followed his teachings and exhortations. He has always indicated with great conviction qualities in persons he sees as the church leaders. Describing his wish for pastors or shepherds who are close to the people, gentle, patient and merciful whilst demonstratively living an outward simplicity and austere life. He wants Bishops to shed away any princely thoughts or personal ambitions.

To me he comes over as seeing Bishops that imbue spiritual hope, mercy and kindness, thereby explaining God’s divine plan for his people. Pope Francis in his simplicity and joy looks intent on re-invigorating the Church with messages that are easy to understand, positive, promote compassion and bear witness to the love and divine mercy of our saviour Jesus Christ.

One of the main dilemmas facing Christians worldwide is the ever-dwindling numbers of faithful who attend church functions. Participation in Church activities is sometimes considered no longer necessary for one to form part of the church. No, I am not only referring to regular Sunday mass attendance but also to participation in other church activities. It does not mean the embellishments and paintings, neither the village feast, nor the petards that hound us every summer. The word Church therefore means an assembly of all those who profess faith and vow allegiance to the teachings of Christ.

The coming synod faces a difficult and daunting task but it promises to be an exciting opportunity to re-establish our churches as the main source of evangelisation to enhance our intimate encounter with Christ.

Evangelisation is not about telling stories, festivities, petards and band marches. It is about leading the faithful to an amazing experience to such an extent that one would want to profess the gospel through his living example. The Church will not move away from its doctrine, which has been written, passed down through the ages and guided by divine intervention.

However I can see the Church delivering the Christian message with a renewed strength and vigour that manages to attract droves back to Church assemblies.

Evangelisation is about repeatedly explaining the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Let no one forget that His life is the most significant episode in history that changed humanity to a more profound perspective of life and death, the main virtues being forgiveness and mercy.

Evangelisation is about always savouring the attractiveness and meaning of one’s calling in life being clerical or married or single for that matter. It is about bringing to practice the teachings of Christ in our encounters with other members of the Church.

Evangelisation is about increasing and improving the participation of the family in pastoral activities, thereby showing the importance of God in the presence of the family; showing right from wrong without in any way alienating persons who might be finding spiritual difficulties in their life. It must be a non-judgemental show of prudence and tolerance to complex situations which we might not necessarily have an understanding of today.

Evangelisation is about dispelling the reasoning that religion does not have a place in civil issues. It’s not about excommunicating those who express themselves incongruent with the teachings of the Church. It’s the other way round; Christian values can mould civil issues.

Evangelisation is about teaching people to come out of a spiritual state of isolation and solitude. Because the message has always been that we are not alone. Jesus preached the good news throughout his life; that he is the shepherd who loves his sheep and would give his life for even one of them. His everlasting words “I am with you till the end of time.”

Carmel Vassallo, Fgura

Nature reserve Il-Ballut Ta’ Marsaxlokk

If you had to ask the Maltese if they ever heard about nature reserves in Malta, most probably they will mention just one, Ghadira Nature reserve.

I really wonder whether anyone knows or has heard about the nature reserve il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk. The site is mainly a wetland in the south of Malta managed by Nature Trust. The reserve is not so large when compared to Ghadira or Simar, but it is very important to migrant birds especially the waders.

It is literally next to the seaside which makes it more convenient for the arrival of migrant birds. The site is also considered to be a Natura 2000 site.

During autumn and spring, several species have been noticed, such as wood warblers, yellow wagtails, swallows, pied flycatchers, common sand pipers and little ring plovers. Last spring, a great white egret was observed passing over the reserve.

The reserve is currently in a bad state, although one needs to note that last year MEPA did some cleaning. The reserve needs constant monitoring as salt marshes are an extremely sensitive environment.

First of all the reserve is visited by several hunters who have been using it to kill birds. Bird lovers have also been insulted and threatened by hunters inside the reserve! Unfortunately, the fence surrounding the reserve has been literally destroyed by hunters. This makes it easier for anyone who would like to enter the reserve!

Those visiting the site can easily notice that the reserve is full of waste washed ashore by the sea. On a sad note it is becoming a habit that those visiting the area organise barbecues inside the reserve. Such activities disturb migrant birds which feed and roost inside the reserve.

Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk deserves attention. First of all, the reserve must be managed by BirdLife Malta, which has developed considerable expertise over the last two decades. Ghadira Nature Reserve and Simar, both managed by BirdLife, have been a story of success. The surrounding fence must be re-installed again to make it more difficult for trespassers. Possibly CCTV cameras should also be installed in order to deter any illegal activity both inside and outside the reserve.

Finally, more efforts should be focused upon educating people about the importance of this reserve. Unless something is done, the reserve will continue to serve as a cemetery for migrating birds. 

John Abdilla, Marsaxlokk

Attacks on free speech

I have always been outspoken in my opposition to hunting, and I support the government’s decision to close the hunting season to control the illegalities that were taking place.

However I cannot but condemn the actions of the police and the courts in dealing with people who protested against this decision. They were well within their rights to voice their disagreement. Charges such as “insulting the government” or “inciting them to disrespect the government” belong in a dictatorship. Even the charge of “insulting the Prime Minister” has no place in a democracy.

I am obviously not referring to those who resorted to violence against birdwatchers in Buskett or reporters in Valletta, or even those who carried imitation shotguns into Valletta. The charges of hurling stones, assaulting people and so on are fully justified, but freedom of speech is a critically important human right which cannot be trampled underfoot in this manner.

Ramon Casha, Qormi