Touching the hand of God
A photograph doing the rounds on the internet shows a tiny hand emerging from a womb grasping, antenatally, the finger of the surgeon who was operating both the mother and the baby and who saved both their lives.
It is an amazingly moving photograph that reminds me of the iconic one painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo: the creation of Adam in which God the father extends His finger to touch Adam’s, thereby giving life to man, a sort of electric current long before electricity was invented.
If one compares the fresco and the photograph, the messages are clear. God creates while scientific and medical advances enhance lives that hitherto would be unimaginably tragic.
In the case of the baby in the photograph, had the operation not been possible, this baby would have had spinabifida with all the consequences of the condition.
Does this mean that Man has become as great and as powerful as God? No, not by a long chalk. However, I firmly believe that Man’s intelligence is God given and, hence, each medical milestone that saves lives is something that God wills. This is why the photograph has, in the last couple of months, moved millions all over the world. Yet, the saving of this particular life is but an infinitesimal speck in the grand scheme of things wherein, all over the world, there are still far, far too many people who could die because of toothache or the common cold.
Living as we do in sunny Malta on the fringes of the western civilised world it is so easy to forget that, as the stork and the flamingo fly over us, down south they are reaching lands in which our fabled medicine is replaced by the mutterings of a witch doctor shaking his juju stick!
Can we be surprised that boatloads of men, women and children choose to risk all they have and escape to Europe where they have always known that the streets are paved in gold and that the taps flow with fresh potable water let alone all sorts of milk , honey and even chocolate in abundance?
There have been population displacements and immigrations ever since history began and this phenomenon is definitely nothing strange or new. When one thinks of the Exodus, for instance, or the Norsemen, the Huns and the Moguls, the Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Vandals; all these represented humongous shifts in population from one place to another.
Yet, we are quite rightly defensive of our little cabbage patch and are beset by fear that, yes, there will come a time that things will not remain the same precisely because we resisted change. All over the world, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean, trouble and strife rule and all we hear of is about this bomb and that ambush and the other kidnapping, let alone ruthless and bloodthirsty repression that has claimed far too many lives as is.
Who are we, sitting in our blessed island that only uses bombs to create showers and formations of coloured sparks and who live cocooned and protected lives, to tell these asylum seekers that they are unwelcome and that they are to return to countries where they are liable to be imprisoned at best and killed at worst along with their families and friends?
What a far cry from that perennial image of the Maltese welcoming St Paul in AD60.
For years, decades, in fact, we have, as a Catholic nation, donated enormous sums to what we used to call The Missions. In fact, during my childhood in the 1960s, my friends and I thought of little else than collecting money for the missions.
We had our little books where we saved enough to baptise babies while we used glass rosaries, the decades of which were in five different colours, representing the five continents. We had holy pictures depicting exquisitely Chinese Madonnas and children while, at Christmas, we always had a black bambino along with a black magus.
Being black was nothing to be alarmed about. We had the golliwog on Robertson’s jam and more golliwogs on our beds. We had both black and white dolls... then something strange happened.
They all disappeared. They were deemed to be politically incorrect. Nothing wrong with white dolls, white bambini, white magi... but black? As for Robertson’s and the Black and White Minstrel Show?
I feel that, as usual, we exaggerated the issue to the extent that there was bound to be a backlash.
But, to get back to our generosity in building churches, organising schools let alone baptising babies, this has not, to our dismay, achieved what it was meant to do, which was to improve the lives and the lots of the Africans and put it on the right path to be at par with Europe. Heaven knows that the natural resources of Africa probably far exceed and excel our over-exploited and dwindling ones. It is, therefore, natural to ask ourselves where we went wrong.
I don’t think we were ever wrong. It is simply that, while giving Africans the fish they need, we failed to give them the rods. Also, our own democratic legacy was completely lost on most of the countries that, in the last century, obtained independence from the imperial power to which they were fettered as none of the colonial countries, with the possible exception of European Malta, was in any position to even comprehend what democracy stands for, let alone is.