He loves his pies
Emanuel Scicluna was painting his house’s internal doors when his son, who was helping him, started playing a cassette of what sounded to him like music sung by nuns in a convent.
“When the cassette finished he played it again. I said nothing. It finished again and he played it again. I asked him what in the world he was listening to. He told me I’d better get used to it as he was becoming a priest,” Mr Scicluna says, chuckling at the memory.
Fast forward 30 years and his son, Mgr Charles Scicluna, is now the newly appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Malta who still retains his passion for classical and church music.
“He told me through that cassette. He was more direct with his mother,” Mgr Scicluna’s 82-year-old father says as he gives the floor to his wife Carmena, 77.
“One day, when he was about 20, he told me he wanted to speak to me. I told him: ‘Are you bringing a girl home?’ He said: ‘No. I want to enter the [Archbishop’s] seminary to become a priest’. I told him that I blessed him with both hands and, if he changed his mind, I’d rent a car to go get him from the seminary,” his mother smiles timidly.
Mgr Scicluna’s parents sit in the living room of their Rabat home surrounded by family photographs that tell the story of a large and united family.
The low-set crystal chandelier is an endearing clue of their petite frame which is revealed as they politely stand up to greet their guests for the interview. It is immediately clear where Mgr Scicluna gets his short stature from, something he often jokes about with friends.
His parents are clearly proud of their eldest son, now 53. “I thank the Lord and nothing more. I’m not better than anyone else but I’ve been blessed by God’s grace,” his mother says.
The couple, who got married in 1958, think back to the day they became parents for the first time with the birth of Charlie, as they call him.
Like any mother Ms Scicluna was over the moon when she had her first child.
He was born in Canada in 1959 when they had moved there for two years. He was 11 months when they returned to Malta and Ms Scicluna was pregnant with their second child, Monica. After that they had another two children, Josette and Jesmond.
“Charlie always liked school and always had a book in his hand. He didn’t know how to ride a bicycle. He read about everything. When we sent him to trade school his teacher told us: ‘Your son is academically inclined and has no idea how to hold a hammer’,” his mother says matter-of-factly.
His father recalls how his son always wanted to be an altar boy but he did not allow him since he didn’t want him to get distracted from his schoolwork. Today, he finds the irony hilarious.
Mgr Scicluna’s sisters, Monica Lanzon and Josette Grixti, remember playing with beads and marbles on the roof as children.
“We used to laugh as he did not know how to flick the marbles properly,” Ms Grixti says.
Her sister recalls how he helped them a lot with their homework and their school projects.
Mgr Scicluna’s parents recount how he had been awarded a scholarship after he completed Sixth Form in one year instead of two.
“When I went to parents’ day I said I was the mother of Charlie Scicluna. The teacher told me I could go and had nothing to worry about. And I left,” his mother smiles.
Her son was a reserved young man who attended the Legion of Mary. Initially, he started studying to become an accountant since his father wanted him to.
“One day he came up to me and told me that in my life I followed the path I wanted. He then changed to law,” his father says adding that during his second year studying law he decided to attend the seminary to become a priest.
“We bought him a small bike to make his way around between the law course, home and the seminary,” his mother says.
His parents and sisters admit they did not really see it coming – him becoming a priest – especially since he was on his way to becoming a lawyer. But, in hindsight, there were clues.
“When we were small we’d play at celebrating Mass and he was always the priest,” Ms Grixti says.
His father recalls: “When he was small I had got him wood to make an altar. Then he found a set of candlestick holders and pretended to celebrate Mass…
“I think the inclination was always there. When he was 11 he took my elderly mother to church and read during the Mass and even sang.”
Building on her husband’s words, his mother recalls: “When he was in the Legion he met priests. Once he was in Gozo with a priest who told him: ‘You’re meant to be with us and not becoming a lawyer’.”
After entering the seminary Mgr Scicluna became a priest and lived with his parents until he was asked to go to Rome 26 years ago. The first four years were spent studying – as, again, he completed his five-year course a year earlier.
After that the Vatican asked him to remain in Rome. He went home for Christmas and Easter holidays and in August, always staying with his parents and taking gifts and cheeses to share.
“On Christmas Day we’ll be 16 people in all including our grandchildren,” Mr Scicluna says.
“Charles likes helping with the Christmas decorations and laying the table and whenever he’s home he prepares a place at table for Chubby, the 17-year-old dog,” Ms Lanzon says.
Whenever he left Malta he usually stocked up on frozen cheesecakes to share with Maltese priests in Rome. While away he made it a point to phone his parents every day.
Asked if she prepared anything special when her son came to visit, his mother says: “Not really. There’s no problem there. He eats anything.”
But her daughters immediately interject. “There is something you prepare especially for him when he’s coming. She doesn’t admit it,” her daughters tease.
Ms Scicluna looks up shyly and says: “The ricotta pie” at which point her husband joins in and says: “She only prepares it for him. She already prepared the dough in fact.”