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Welcome Cardinal Antonelli, please bring us a biretta!

This weekend sees the end of the Pauline Year declared by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to mark the 2000th anniversary of the birth of the apostle who, convert though he was, is largely credited with making Christianity a main stream global religion in the ancient world.

Given St Paul's fortuitous shipwreck on Malta, which is even recounted in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, it is no wonder that the Catholic leaders in Malta made sure that this Pauline Year was celebrated in the most fitting manner possible in Malta and Gozo. The Pauline Year in Malta thus comes to an end this weekend with very public manifestations which will serve to underline that these islands are still, despite the sharp decrease in Mass attendance on Sundays, largely Catholic.

Both the Catholic leadership and the Government had hoped that Pope Benedict would have somehow managed to be present himself for this occasion. Sadly for them, and for many of us, that was not to be. Instead the Pope is sending his legate, as the person specifically representing the Roman Pontiff on such occasions is called.

Thus, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, a member of the Roman Curia within the Vatican will be the guest of honour and main concelebrant during the solemn high masses which will be celebrated in Malta and Gozo over this weekend.

Many Maltese Catholics, yours truly included, will not only be disappointed, however, that the Pope will not be in Malta this weekend.

Another source of disappointment will be that if for the umpteenth time the Catholic Archdiocese of Malta is not elevated to the status of a Cardinal's see, sede cardinalizia, as it is called. This would put the local archdiocese on a par with others across the world where the archbishop is not only the most high ranking bishop in that diocese but also in that particular country but also because he is a prince of the Church, as the cardinals are known, with the right, amongst other things, and if he is still under the age of 80 to participate in the Conclave to elect the Pope .

The reason that is always given for Malta's failure to make it into this league is that it is too small and that, apart from Italy, Spain and the United States of America, most other countries much, much larger than Malta have only one Cardinal.

Thus, for example, even though His Eminence Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor has resigned as Archbishop of Westminster and been replaced by His Grace Archbishop Vincent Nichols, it is not expected that the latter will be elevated to the rank of Cardinal until Cardinal O' Connor reaches the age of 80 and will be thus precluded from participating in a future conclave. In other words, how could one justify making Malta a sede cardinalizia when not even the see of Westminister is one?

My answer is simple and it comes in two parts.

The first part is purely local. Malta is the only one of the Churches and sees established by St Paul which has remained Catholic to this day. Indeed, as fresh evidence has now confirmed, there was a Maltese Catholic community which survived in Gozo during the two centuries of Muslim rule and which also had its own bishop. Thus, if for no other reason, the Maltese archdiocese should be made a sede caridinalizia even in recognition of this very simple fact.

The second part of my answer is that it is not only Malta, despite what I have just said, which should be made a sede cardinalizia.

In my opinion, the Church needs to be democratised. We cannot continue to have the leader of one billion Catholics chosen from amongst a limited number of persons whose number is arbitrarily fixed at 120. I firmly believe that for the Church to be truly universal the College of Cardinals should be made up by a number of cardinals which is equal to the number of countries where the Church is firmly established. In simple language, the minimum number of voting cardinals should be established at one cardinal per (Catholic) country plus, of course, their eminences who carry out duties within the Roman Curia and those who are appointed to the already existing sedi cardinalizie.

The size and population of the country should not be an issue. After all, the rank of cardinal was not created by Christ. Jesus only chose the 12 apostles and 72 disciples and bade them to preach the Good News to the ends of the earth. These were the forerunners of the present day bishops. The office of cardinal was only created much later when the Church spread much further than Rome and the Mediterranean and it became physically impossible to assemble all the bishops in due time in order to choose the successor of Peter.

Those days are now long gone thanks to the wonders of modern communications and transportation systems. It is, therefore, possible to assemble all the Cardinals in Rome within 24 hours at most.

So, Cardinal Antonelli, please take note of all this and if, you do not manage to bring it with you this time, please make sure that the next time you come you do bring a cardinal's biretta for our archdiocese!

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