[WATCH] Guzeppi Mercieca: mourners pay homage to exemplary and humble leader

People pay their respects to Archbishop emeritus Guzeppi Mercieca at St John's Co-Cathedral where his body lies in state ahead of a national funeral

Archbishop Emeritus Guzeppi Mercieca was described as an exemplary and humble leader
Archbishop Emeritus Guzeppi Mercieca was described as an exemplary and humble leader
Mourners pay homage to archbishop Guzeppi Mercieca

Archbishop Emeritus Guzeppi Mercieca was described as "humble and exemplary", by a number of people paying their respects at St. John’s Co-Cathedral.

Mercieca, who spent 30 years at the helm of the Maltese Church between 1976 and 2006, passed away yesterday morning, aged 87, at his private Zejtun residence. He saw the Church go through some of its most challenging periods, facing threats by the government, led by then Labour prime minister Dom Mintoff, of seizing most of the Church’s property. Relations continued to be strained and culminated in an attack on the Curia in Floriana by dockyard workers, tearing paintings and breaking glass, furniture and statues.

His leadership at this particularly difficult time did not go unnoticed, with many of the faithful singing his praises and saying they admired his level headed and peaceful leadership of the Church.

“He was always a very humble man and he knew how to handle particularly difficult situations,” Antonia Attard said, adding that she hoped his methods would be an example to current and future leaders of the church.

Fr. Simon Sciberras told MaltaToday that Mercieca’s “admirable prudence” at the particularly difficult time “ought to serve as a message to the people on how to act in particularly trying times.”

“Even when confronted with violence, he showed it is no use to fight fire with fire, but he continued to stand for the virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation,” he said, adding that these methods had been a strong part of the legacy he would leave the Catholic Church in Malta.

Sciberras also extolled Mercieca’s love and dedication for the community. He explained that he held a special place in his heart for the family, the elderly and the infirm, as well as children.

“He believed it was important to pass your message to children as they are the basis of the future.”

Sciberras also remembered an episode when he had been on an official visit to Sandhurst School with Mercieca, and he recalled how well received he had been by both students and members of staff.

“I remember how the students felt comfortable to ask him all sorts of questions, and how he had patiently discussed various issues with him,” Sciberras said, adding that he had even travelled with Mercieca to Lourdes to visit the infirm there.

Eric Ebejer also emphasized that Mercieca was a “good man” and that he was liked by the public.

“He was reserved and almost shy, but he served his duty well and the people loved him for it,” Ebejer said.

Mark Lombardo told the newsroom that he had followed the Archbishop’s career ever since he had received his Holy Confirmation from him. Remarking the difficult time Mercieca had led the Church through, Lombardo also described how he was fully capable of going down to the level of younger generations.

“It was during his time that masses for young people and rock masses were established,” he said.

“He did everything in his power to bring people of all ages and beliefs together and to keep the Church as alive as he could,” Lombardo said.

Almost all of those who spoke to the newsroom said they admired his “exemplary” attitude, with Connie Mifsud and Lourdes Bezzina stressing that his leadership had had a very positive effect on the people.

“I think Malta has lost one if the greatest figures it has had,” Joe Borg said, emphasizing Mercieca’s values as a deep thinker and as someone who has left the country a rich history and legacy.

The public will be able to pay their last respects at St. John’s Co-Cathedral  tomorrow between 9am 12pm and the funeral mass will be celebrated by Archbishop Charles Scicluna will at 4pm, ahead of a cortège through Republic Street to City Gate tomorrow.

A private burial will take place at the Mdina Cathedral.