The torch has been handed on
Last September I wondered what had held up the nomination of a new archbishop three years after Mgr Mercieca had submitted his resignation on reaching the age of 75. "A situation exists where the Church in its widest meaning is completely in the dark as to what is going on." I had argued that Mgr Mercieca had "served long and faithfully enough. In all charity it (was) time for this arduous burden, a bishop's lot, to be taken up by another."
That burden has now been lifted from him, as it was from Bishop Nikol Cauchi last year with the appointment of Fr Mario Grech, and has fallen on the shoulders of a 60-year-old Dominican priest, Fr Paul Cremona. When the parish priest of Gesù Nazzarenu is consecrated in his office, next month, he will join a band of men whose collective job description requires them to be vicarii et legati Christi. This in itself must be an awesome thought for Fr Cremona.
His Grace Mgr Mercieca served the community for the last 30 years in circumstances that were at times extremely difficult. To his merit he improved greatly the depth and breadth of pastoral letters and called a Synod to take a snapshot of the Church with a view to revitalising areas that had atrophied. This concluded its work successfully and now requires the new archbishop to see to its implementation. Mgr Mercieca is in an excellent position to tell his successor just how awesome his task can be and often is.
For one thing, Fr Cremona inherits an office that is as old as the Church itself, one which demands of him that, like Jesus Christ, he be a sign of contradiction, which is far from being a contradictory person. For another, it is required of him to be a good shepherd, an innocuous requirement at first glance, but one that is laden with a heavy responsibility.
None heavier and more urgent, I imagine, than his answer to the question that will be put to him, whether he is "resolved as a good shepherd to seek out the sheep who stray and to gather them into the fold of the Lord?" The answer he will formally give is a simple "yes", yet it is the very simplicity of that affirmation which must haunt every hour of a bishop's life.
Fr Cremona's pastoral record is recognised as being more than passing good. His parishioners testify to the fact. He tried to understand their "joy and hope, (their) grief and anguish'; now it is to the joy, hope, grief and anguish of a far larger parish that he must address himself. It is the same ball game but more exhausting, physically and spiritually.
Not only has he to approach, literally, a wider audience, "to initiate and promote dialogue". He is called upon to be approachable to his priests, first, and then to those with whom he comes into contact during his pastoral initiatives. He has to be all things to all men, not in the preposterous manner of the Vicar of Bray, but in truth and love and steadfastness. All of which is very easy to say and dauntingly difficult to be and do, except that he knows he has not chosen his office; he has been chosen - "You did not choose me but I chose you". The knowledge of this is what will make life bearable for this smiling prelate.
A collective effort
It is clear that the Archbishop-elect has no more chance of carrying out his task alone as the editor of this newspaper has of writing everything that appears in it. The editor needs reporters, commentators, cartoonists, reviewers of film, books and television, correspondents, experts in finance, industry, commerce and education - and advertisers. So, too, Fr Cremona.
In his case, his helpers are his priests - again, first. "He should regard them," he is instructed by the Vatican Council's decree on Bishops, "as sons and friends... be ready to listen to them... (and be) solicitous for (their) welfare", deacons, seminarians, catechists, pastoral and liturgical bodies, lay movements, missionaries, social researchers whom he must encourage to motivate and co-ordinate various forms of the apostolate. "Thus," says the same decree, "all the undertakings and organisations, whether their object be catechetical, missionary, charitable, social, family, educational, or any other pastoral end, will act together in harmony, and the unity of the diocese will be more closely demonstrated."
To achieve this he must create for himself time, of which there is never enough; time for his priests, time to be among the people, time to evangelise (his priests, first), time to prioritise his work to best advantage.
Fr Cremona is aware that there are forces at work, some of these home-grown, others imported, militating against the Church either as a hierarchy or as the body of the faithful. He knows the moral climate that exists, the ethical problems that are arising, have arisen. He knows there has been a decline in Mass attendance and has a good idea as to the factors that are contributing to it. Here he can do no better than to go on the offensive by encouraging not merely Sunday attendance as a happy obligation for believers, a meaningful encounter, but more frequent attendance during the week because of what the Eucharist means to believers.
How he can galvanise the faithful will be for him to work out, but he could do worse, in this and other areas, than take a serious look at how parish priests are confronting problems caused by factors that require an honest definition. All this may sound, but is not meant to be, churlish. The Archbishop-elect regards crises as situations that "serve as a moment of reflection". This is an imaginative approach.
He will by now have read and re-read Christus Dominus and Ecclesiae Sanctae. He knows that he has to "devote (his) energies wholeheartedly to those who have strayed in any way the path of truth... proclaim the gospel of Christ to men... present the doctrine of Christ in a manner... (that is) relevant to those difficulties and questions which men find especially worrying and intimidating... safeguard this doctrine - be especially concerned about catechetical instruction"; to name but a few of his duties. He is wished well, as is Mgr Mercieca, who will now discover the well-earned blessedness of peace and rest from toil.
Help me breathe
I did not know, but I should have known. I remember the horrendous incident, of course, but I had not kept up with its aftermath, which has been going on for more than two decades. It is 22 years since a gas leak from a pesticide factory in Bhopal India killed thousands of people in one night.
Last week I was brought up to date on the gruesome details of that man-caused tragedy - how "people woke choking, blinded by an invisible fire that burned their eyes and throat and tore at the lungs until they drowned in their body fluids"; how "there followed a spate of horrific births"; how today in Bhopal 120,000 people remain seriously ill; how more than 20,000 people are today washing in and drinking poisoned water; how there are girls that endure three periods a month. 17,000 people are registered for medical care in the Bhopal region. There seems to be no end to the suffering. There is more, but that is surely enough.
Recently I received the Bhopal Medical Appeal, from which I gleaned the facts I have jotted down in this column. I thought I should share it with you so that you know what can be done with a donation of £1 (60 cents). It buys an inhaler for someone who is breathless. £10 funds a week's herbal medicines for 100 people. £1,000 pays a doctor's salary for a whole year (a hundredth of what it costs to buy a modest apartment in Malta; a fortieth of what a consultant or a very successful GP earns in Malta, never mind a lawyer, decorator, carpenter, electrician and plumber). Naturally, anybody who is moved to donate can send anything between £1 and £1,000 or more.
Your donation, if you care to make one, should be sent to Pesticides Action Network UK (Bhopal Appeal), Freepost Lon 10046, London EC2B 2BR. There is no stamp needed but putting one on will save the charity that cost. For more information visit www.bhopal.org
It has been two years, I think, since The Economist painted a gloomy picture of what would happen to the world economy if the housing market in the United States collapsed. It would not be a pretty sight, not least because of the worldwide repercussions that this would have. The point, even then, was that prices were absurdly high and if they went higher it was probable the whole edifice would tumble down, first in a sort of crazy slow motion, then with blinding force as markets all over the world plummeted 1930s-style. Do you feel a shiver go down your spine?
No? Well, take care, as everybody and his dog keep telling me nowadays. Going out? Take care. Driving to Valletta? Take care. Bidding some salesgirl goodbye and thank you? Take care. Right; I will, but it looks as if the whole world should be seriously taking care if a millionth of what Ambrose Price Evans wrote in the Daily Telegraph is correct.
New home prices in the US dropped by 9.7 per cent in October. The man who heads the US Treasury is unhappy with the fact that there are "8,000 unregulated hedge funds with £1.3 trillion at hand and derivative contracts now worth £370 trillion". According to Price-Evans, Mr Paulson "has reactivated a crisis team with a command centre in Washington to cope with the 'systemic risk' in a market melt-down." Feeling a shiver? No? Take care.
There have been 17 interest rises from 1 per cent in June 2004 to the current 5,25 per cent. What he calls "big-ticket" orders for cars, aircraft, computers and such fell by 8.2 per cent in October. Average price houses have fallen from $244,000 to $221,000 since April. Worse, builders have been slashing prices to off-load a glut of unsold homes. They warn of a "death spiral". Debt payments in the US "have reached an all-time high of 13.9 per cent of personal income". Take care.
Price-Richards quotes what he describes as a 'currency guru' at HSBC as saying: "The US needs a trillion dollars a year just to stand still". In Japan, which has been recovering from its last and long recession, retail sales have fallen for two consecutive months. The euro, worth 90 US cents not an aeon ago, is worth $1.33 today. Perversely, the US needs a weak dollar "to cushion its downturn". Europe's economies cannot take a dollar slide. Feeling a shiver? Take care.
In the context of the price of houses in Malta, can anyone enlighten me as to how there is so much unsold property (Lm20 million to Lm40 millions' worth, at least, the lower level in the hands of one estate agent alone) how much new property is going up and how house prices remain on the rise and rise? Can the banks tell us the value of the portfolio of their debtors in house mortgages? Keep your fingers crossed, dear readers. And I nearly forgot. Take care.
On a more embarrassingly mundane level am still in newspaper-cuttings-destruction mode, meaning I am going through years of these cuttings and consigning anything I do not want to see again, ever, to the waste-bin. It is an infinitely more laborious task than the delete-thing one does on a computer, but the job needs to be done.
In the process, and this is the embarrassingly mundane bit in the light or, rather, darkness of the Bhopal piece, I came across a report on the front page of this newspaper, filed 14 months ago by Sarah Puntan-Galea. The headline must have been the reason I kept the cutting - "Maltese supermodel to take world by storm". Who, I thought at the time, and now as I took up the cutting, was this supermodel and what has become of her?
Her name was Christine Pillow who had competed with 200 other entrants for the unlikely title of Maltese Ford Supermodel of the World in September of last year. A photograph of her bore out the fact that Christine was indeed, as the caption described her, 'stunning'. This year she was the face of Diet Coke, whatever that means. I cannot recall ever seeing her face on Diet Coke. As the winner, she was to compete in New York, last January, for a $250,000 contract with Ford Models.
I do not have any cuttings to show whether she won or not and I only bring this up because Ms Puntan-Galea asked us to keep our fingers crossed for 'our' supermodel. Did Christine take the world by storm? And where is she now? Can I uncross my fingers before this cutting goes the way of all print?
It is often said by the critics of Christian origins that certain ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origins. They might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked, or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet. What can be maintained... is this: that where (the) Church has existed it has preserved not only the processions but the dances; not only the cathedral but the carnival. One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. In short, in the old religious countries men continue to dance; while in the new scientific cities they are content to drudge.... When this saner view of history is realised, there does remain something more mystical and difficult to define. Even heathen things are Christian when they have been preserved by Christianity. (Common Sense - Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, by Dale Ahlquist)