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He will be the ‘prop’ for Church­ in Malta

Friends gather at church, excited and eager to share their pride

(First published on October 7)

Noon church bells peal daily to announce the Angelus, summoning devotees to say a little prayer, but in Lija yesterday the bells pealed for almost an hour at midday, in joyous celebration.

When he’s around, you can count on him

Right after the Angelus yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI officially announced the appointment of Mgr Charles Scicluna as Malta’s new Auxiliary Bishop.

As the bells kept ringing, a crowd of Mgr Scicluna’s friends gathered on the church parvis, excited and eager to share their pride that a fellow Lija resident will hold such a position in the Maltese Church.

Mgr Scicluna’s long-time neighbour and friend, Mark Sciberras, 37, described Mgr Scicluna as a man “of great responsibility”, “outgoing” and having a “sense of humour”.

The monsignor’s parents were elated at the news and their phone has not stopped ringing, with people calling in to congratulate them, he said.

“We’d love to see him as Archbishop one day, of course,” he said, adding that all those who know him in Lija believe the monsignor has all the qualities to become Malta’s second cardinal.

Frans Portelli, 52, a member of the Lija Band Club, said Mgr Scicluna is just what the Church in Malta needs.

“Archbishop Paul Cremona has a shoulder to lean on now,” he said. He too knows Mgr Scicluna well, as he often popped round to the band club “for a drink or two”, whenever he visited Malta on a break from his demanding job at the Vatican.

“Needless to say, he is highly intelligent, otherwise the Pope would not have chosen him to work at the Vatican,” said Mr Portelli.

“I think we have just acquired someone who will act as a prop for the Church in Malta, which is burnt out with tackling major issues – sexual abuses, divorce, now IVF. It’s not an easy time,” he mulled, as the bells stopped ringing close to 1pm.

The church sacristan, Aaron Cuschieri, 35, descended the belfry’s 200 steps. His hands were bruised from the marathon bell-ringing, but his face was a picture of happiness.

Normally a man of few words, Mr Cuschieri, who has known Mgr Scicluna for almost 20 years, was very willing to talk about the man he considers as his close friend.

“He is very charismatic and amiable and he can talk about anything under the sun,” he said. Mgr Scicluna is a bookworm and enamoured of classical music and choirs.

He said the monsignor is particularly well-loved for his sermons, which are short, simple and always with a moral at the end. “He has the knack of adapting to the audience he has in front of him.”

Mgr Scicluna had delivered the sermon during the sacristan’s wedding Mass. “I think I’ve watched the video and listened to the sermon more than 200 times!”

Mr Cuschieri said he admired the monsignor’s ability to be very straightforward.

“If he needs to say something, he’ll get straight to the point, there’s no going round in circles… and when he is wrong, he has no qualms admitting it,” he said.

He has great devotion for San Ġorġ Preca and tirelessly led the campaign in favour of the canonisation between 1996 and 2007.

Mgr Scicluna loves internal feasts and always makes it a point to be in Lija on August 6, the feast of the Transfiguration.

“We like to tease him, because once he was called for work in New York on August 6, and ended up celebrating Mass by himself – he wasn’t very happy about that,” he laughed.

Mgr Scicluna is also very popular with the younger generation. Luca Gatt, 20, Christian Spiteri, 20, and Sheldon Attard, 22, gathered on the parvis. They are part of a group of young people involved in church decoration and have known the monsignor for over five years.

“He knows what each one of us is doing – the courses we’re following at school, work, and even if we have a girlfriend or not,” they said.

“We often have a good laugh. When he’s around, you can count on him when you need some advice,” said Mr Attard, adding it is very rare to find a priest like him these days.

The sacristan nodded in agreement. Although Mr Cuschieri’s pride at his friend’s new role shone through, he was not sure he would be seeing more of him now that he will be based in Malta.

What would he call his friend now that he’s a bishop?

“In front of people I call him ‘Monsinjur’ but now, I’ll have to change that to ‘Eċċellenza’,” he chuckled.

Then he added as an afterthought: “But to me, he’s always Ċali.”

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