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Floriana celebrates feast of Malta's first bishop and head of the island

Front row from left: Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, President Eddie Fenech Adami, Floriana archpriest Richard Borg and Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco at the Vilhena Band Club yesterday. Photos: Jason Borg.

Front row from left: Gozo Bishop Mario Grech, President Eddie Fenech Adami, Floriana archpriest Richard Borg and Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco at the Vilhena Band Club yesterday. Photos: Jason Borg.

The festa season opened yesterday with the feast of St Publius, Malta's first bishop, in Floriana.

The day started with a pontifical Mass led by Gozo Bishop Mario Grech and attended by, among others, the President and Mrs Fenech Adami.

In keeping with tradition, President Fenech Adami and Mgr Grech later attended a reception at the Vilhena Band Club.

The reception has been attended by the country's bishop or archbishop for the past 150 years. This year it was attended by Mgr Grech in the absence of Archbishop Paul Cremona, who is abroad.

The President has been attending for the past 20 years or so.

Committee member Chris Vella said the country's leaders traditionally visited the club as the successors of St Publius. St Publius, he pointed out, was not only Malta's first bishop but the head of the island.

St Publius was probably Maltese because, in Roman culture, a country was usually administered by a local. This, Mr Vella said, would make St Publius Malta's first saint. However, unlike St Ġorġ Preca, St Publius was not canonised because canonisation, a formal process by which saints started to be recognised, only started later.

The dignitaries at the Vilhena club yesterday also included ambassadors, district MPs, the mayor and councillors. They were welcomed by club president Francis Bonett who said the club has been taking part in the feast since 1874.

Mgr Grech said he was rejoicing with the people of Floriana on the celebration of the feast of their patron saint and pointed out that he had chosen January 22, the day of the liturgical feast of St Publius, for his consecration as bishop. He hoped that civilisation would continue to be inspired by the values of the gospel.

President Fenech Adami said that since St Publius had also been a civic head of the country he was honoured to be present for the feast as the head of state.

Feasts, he said, were a Maltese tradition and on such occasions the Maltese should reflect on their identity as a people and as a country whose character was inspired by the Christian culture.

The book Monuments, Churches and Gardens in Floriana, in Maltese, English and Italian, was launched yesterday. It is written by Alfred Debattista and mayor Nigel Holland.

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