Striking the right balance in feast celebrations
Figures released by the National Statistics Office show that 122 feasts were celebrated at parish level last year, including 95 primary feasts. Remuneration of participants, it resulted, made up just four per cent of the total expenditure, indicating the high proportion of participation by volunteers.
The NSO data proves, if proof were ever needed, how much many people are ready to give from their time, skills and energy, without expecting anything back, to ensure the best celebration possible of the parish feast of their preference.
The number of such volunteers is impressive. In 2011, those assisting in the organisation of events related to parish feasts numbered 3,870, a slight increase over 2010. On average, every parish feast had 32 organisers. Moreover, active participants in processions last year amounted to 8,173, three per cent more than in the preceding year. In both cases, the largest proportion of organisers consisted of males, mainly in the 18-64 age bracket.
Were it not for the generous and committed contribution of all these volunteers, expenditure on parish feasts would be much higher. It is through their dedicated service that, in 2010, the Church managed to keep its own expenditure on parish feasts limited to €396,000 (€68,000 less than in the previous year). The total expenditure in 2011 was €1.5 million, an average €12,155 per feast.
The input of this parish feast-related volunteers community also includes the initiatives of those among them who do their best – sometimes even going out of their way due to overenthusiasm – to encourage parishioners to participate with their donations. In fact, last year, the total income from parish feasts totalled €1.3 million, at par with the previous year, with the main share – 61 per cent – coming from donations.
Considering that parish feasts not only remain part and parcel of the country’s calendar of events but, over these last four decades, also experienced a growth, the efforts of the volunteers and enthusiasts who share in their organisation and celebration deserve positive recognition.
Nonetheless, this should not in any way overshadow the need to continue striving to free parish feasts from all contradictions and exaggerations, whatever form these may have.
Admittedly, there may be different opinions and interpretations about the reasons why the celebration of feasts grew to the extent it is today. However, whatever the background, the aim for the future should primarily be to ensure the proper dimension and celebration of feasts as a source of Christian identity, love, joy, solidarity and also unity for parish communities.
The responsibility to promote and safeguard the true Christian spirit of feasts and to ensure that these celebrations do not cross undesired frontiers remains with the Church authorities and their pastors.
As pointed out in a note on fireworks issued by the parish priests of Gozo in May, apart from being an external expression of popular devotion, feasts are also a significant part of the people’s social and cultural life. Therefore, the Church has a duty to protect this religious, social and cultural heritage from all that which seeks to distance it from its main aim.
The Church can rest assured that the large majority stands fully and squarely behind it in the continued efforts to rope in the cooperation of all key players in the celebration of feasts, in promoting balance and moderation in spending on decorations and fireworks and in giving priority to solidarity initiatives with those in need of their neighbour’s support.