Funeral characterised by tears and hero worship
A young man in his 20s, dressed casually in a pair of shorts and T-shirt, held onto the metal barricade outside St John’s Co-Cathedral, watching the funeral service broadcast on the big screen from the front row.
Masked only by sunglasses, he sobbed uncontrollably as the cortege of former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff reached the cathedral to wild applause.
Asked why he was so emotional, the young man turned away, wiped his eyes and refused to comment. But he stood quietly under the scorching sun throughout the morning, watching attentively as the service unfolded.
Even though he was clearly too young to remember Mr Mintoff’s heyday, the young man was one of thousands of people who filled the streets of Valletta yesterday to pay tribute to a controversial hero.
Another young man, Sheldon Attard, 22, from Marsa, said even though he was too young to remember the former Prime Minister, Mr Mintoff meant everything to him.
“Because of him, we can be sure that whatever happens, we will be taken care of from the day we are born until we die.”
Though some saw the funeral as simply a historic event – recording every moment on mobile phone cameras – others were overcome by emotion and grief, while many were moved by the show of adulation for the 96-year-old.
Applause reached a crescendo as the coffin entered St John’s for the funeral Mass, before the sweltering heat forced most people to seek shade – some sheltering under umbrellas.
However, some hardy supporters, such as Ronald and Doris Bonello from Għaxaq, chose to stand at the front barriers and braved the unrelenting sun. “We’re standing here because we owe him a lot and we want to see him for the last time. He’ll always be in our hearts,” said Mr Bonello, 61.
“He’s a giant, the best ever. We hope (Labour leader) Joseph Muscat will follow in his footsteps,” added Ms Bonello, 60.
As the funeral came to a close, cheers of “Mintoff, Mintoff” grew louder and louder from outside the Cathedral. They were interrupted only by individual calls hailing “is-Salvatur” (Saviour) or Mr Mintoff’s immortal slogan: “Malta l-ewwel u qabel kollox” (Malta first and foremost).
At one point, the crowd burst into a spontaneous rendition of the National Anthem, peppering the song’s tribute to workers with shouts of gratitude: “Grazzi Perit!”
Some held up pictures of Mr Mintoff or red carnations, while others wore T-shirts imprinted with his portrait.
Many carried their children and grandchildren on their shoulders, stopping, every now and then, to recount their fondest tales from the past.
One British tourist took out his SLR camera and told his friend to do the same, saying: “I’ve never seen anything like this before!”
As the coffin was carried away from the church, the calls hit fever pitch and Mr Mintoff’s family members were clearly moved.
Granddaughter Cetta Mainwaring, who seemed to be smiling peacefully throughout the cortege earlier, was moved to tears.
The crowd only lost an element of control when ushers began distributing funeral card momentos. People shoved each other onto barricades to get their hands on the cards.
Meanwhile, groups of people huddled together to reminisce. Salvinu Craus said Mr Mintoff was clearly a gift from God, a man above all other men – “like Moses was to the Jews. A leader like him has yet to be born,” he said.
Joyce Darmanin, 68, said she was a proud Nationalist until Mr Mintoff came to power and left her spellbound with his charisma and persuasion skills. “I’m here to pay back the respect he showed towards me and everyone else,” she added.
Under one of the arches in St John’s Square, 66-year-old Fgura native Tony Camilleri expressed anger at sections of Maltese society who have revelled in Mr Mintoff’s death. “Everyone has their weak points but God and history will judge Mintoff in a very positive light,” he said.