Closure for everyone
Oh my God! I’m on Net News. I’m also on Il-Mument and In-Nazzjon. PBS skirted away from my comment to Fr Lucie-Smith in which I sent him packing in no uncertain manner for his jaundiced comments about Dom Mintoff and more so for his choice of timing when the nation was grieving for this great Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party.
The Times picked up the story and called me for my comments and to elicit an apology from me, which was certainly not forthcoming.
Canossa is not on my route. The report of my conversation with The Times was fair and balanced. I have no complaints there.
The reality is that the PN is still trying to stomach the immense outpouring of public appreciation for what Mintoff did for them and for Malta in his lifetime.
Not only does the PN still has to live down the scenes of mass sympathy all-over Malta during the Mintoff funeral, but still has to come to grips with the effect that that funeral had on what I would say is a small band of old-time Labourites, with whom “traditur” still rankled, and on thinking Nationalists who, having been fed nothing but prejudice against the man all their lives, may be realising for the first time that they may have been duped.
The rest is just smoke and mirrors trucked out by a desperate opposition in an attempt to obfuscate the stark realities of political fallout from last week’s events, which are poised to fall on them like a ton of bricks.
Malta’s political history should record two major events that emerged from Mintoff’s death and funeral.
Faithful to his record as a catalyst for peace, the indefatigable Mintoff was still working on it from his grave.
During what I consider to be the ‘people’s’ funeral on Friday, there was a telling moment.
It came when the coffin was carried to the PL headquarters, and stopped where we were standing on the steps with Joseph Muscat and the PL administration at the front.
The coffin was turned head-first towards us. Muscat left the front line to place a bouquet of flowers on it.
After he did, spontaneously and without any previous intent, he gave in to what his heart was dictating at that moment. In a most humane and heart-tugging gesture, the PL leader bent and kissed the coffin.
Perhaps Muscat himself did not realise it at that moment, but that gesture brought closure to all those thousands who had continued to support Mintoff when his own party reviled him for bringing down the Sant government.
At that moment, his policy of inclusivity embedded itself firmly in Labour political turf. Inclusivity does not happen by putting a tiger and a sheep in the same cage.
Inclusivity happens with positively interpretative words, actions or gestures. This was one of them and because it was so spontaneous, it is even more precious.
It will be for historians to study, debate and give their verdict as to whether Mintoff was right or wrong to do what he did.
There was a second defining moment. It came during the State funeral at St John’s Co Cathedral.
I hadn’t been inside St John’s for decades, probably since as Labour activists we used to spread ourselves throughout the church when we knew that Archbishop Michael Gonzi would be scheduled to preach, start making all sorts of noises every time Gonzi would mention Mintoff or made references to Labour until, one by one, we would be winkled out and marched out calling Mintoff’s name.
To be present in that church and to witness so many people shouting Mintoff’s name in St John’s Co Cathedral, the same place where Mintoff was so often denigrated and vilified by powerful priests and by the Archbishop himself, in the presence of Archbishop Gonzi’s own nephew and now Prime Minister, must be considered by those who went through those years as nothing short of poetic justice.
But there was more.
Archbishop Paul Cremona’s words were of utmost significance. Coupled with the Pope’s message of condolences, those words recognising Mintoff’s total dedication to the welfare of his country and people, paying tribute of those attributes which his predecessor twice removed had condemned for so long, separating us for good from Malta’s Catholic Church, brought closure for the very first time since those inglorious events occurred.
Archbishop Joseph Mercieca’s apology had been a step in the right direction by the Church in attempting to bring closure to the events that lacerated Malta and did so much harm to the Church itself.
Closure, in my opinion happened at that moment, when a visibly tired Mgr Cremona, the smiling bishop as he has come to be known, pronounced those fateful words in Mintoff’s honour while also saying that Mintoff’s methods may have been debatable.
I can live with that. His methods were debatable at times.
For the best part of 50 years, for all these decades, the Maltese Church has had no role in my life.
I considered it to be a total irrelevance and I am certainly not alone.
After Saturday it may be possible to start building new bridges while keeping close to our hearts the strong relationship with the Almighty which has guided us over the years and which will continue to do so in future – a future which will be dedicated to the re- building of a new Malta.
The funeral of a simple man, who, charged by fate to build a nation and a people, honoured his commitment, became a momentous opportunity for closure and the protagonists did not shirk their duty.
For this and for what is bound to follow from these events, thank you Joseph Muscat and thank you Mgr Cremona.
Joe Grima is a broadcaster and former Labour minister.