Small in stature but big in spirit
His friends unfailingly talk of his charisma, sense of humour and no-nonsense attitude. Kristina Chetcuti speaks to the people who have worked and shared their lives with Mgr Charles Scicluna.
Fr David Gauci, 47
A large framed photo of three smiling men in black cassocks takes pride of place in the room.
It is a photo taken by The Times photographer on the day Mgr Charles Scicluna arrived in Malta from Rome, two days after being named Auxiliary Bishop. The six-foot parish priest of Lija, Fr Gauci, towers over the more diminutive Mgr Scicluna and Archbishop Paul Cremona.
“This photo is really close to my heart because it just captures the moment,” said the parish priest of Lija, Mgr Scicluna’s home whenever he returned to Malta on a break from his Vatican work.
The two priests have known each other for more than 25 years. Their friendship was sealed while they were studying at the seminary and Fr Gauci later chose Mgr Scicluna as his thesis tutor at university.
He describes him as “clear”, “schematic” and with “sense of humour”. They are constantly pulling each other’s legs, he says. “If you come to the sacristy in the morning, you’ll see what I mean.”
The monsignor is often teased about his short stature, which at times can make opening the tabernacle a bit of a struggle. “But he takes our jibes in good stride,” Fr Gauci said.
They have been through various important milestones together. When Mgr Scicluna could not make it to Fr David’s ordination because of his commitments in Rome, the next time they met he gave him a beautiful stole. “He joked that he used the money that he would have spent on the airfare to come down,” he said.
Fr David recalls the time when he was nominated as Lija parish priest 12 years ago – they went out for a pizza to celebrate – and Mgr Scicluna told him, “God will give you the grace of the state”.
“I now reminded him of the same thing as Auxiliary Bishop: God will give him all the help he needs.”
He does not doubt for a second that Mgr Scicluna will be good at his new post. He describes him as “neither a liberal nor conservative” but “something in between”.
Most importantly, he said, Mgr Scicluna was open-minded and down to earth, and his intelligence will serve him well.
Fr Gauci has already given his friend a whole list of things he felt had to be improved in the Church in Malta, but he would not say what featured on this list.
However, he was quick to point out Mgr Scicluna’s role. “Please let’s keep in mind that he is the Auxiliary Bishop. His role is to give advice. He will be a very reliable shoulder for the Archbishop to lean on.”
On December 8, all Lija residents will be celebrating “their bishop” with pageantry. There will be a cortege with police horses and Mgr Scicluna, together with his parents and Fr Gauci, will be driven around in a carriage. The route will take them around the streets and they’ll be passing by all the Lija clubs and associations.
In the meantime, Fr Gauci said Mgr Scicluna had taken to walking around Lija. “I am not sure if his wanting to keep fit is tied to his ordination ceremony,” he said, tongue in cheek, never missing a chance to tease his long time friend.
Miriam Kerr, 48
Miriam Kerr is going through sheaves of paperwork detailing the schedule of the Lija celebration feast for Mgr Scicluna’s appointment on December 8.
Judging by the papers on the kitchen table – it’s no easy task – but she is only too happy to do so. She knows Mgr Scicluna from way back: he was her neighbour in Iklin.
“At the time Iklin was a still a small community – in fact we were part of the Lija parish. We just had this makeshift garage where Mass was held every Sunday,” she said.
When Mgr Scicluna took over the little chapel he took it to task to set up a proper community. “When he took over, it suddenly bloomed: he got an organist, and structured everything. He’s a natural leader; he does everything with love and that makes a difference,” she said.
“Soon people were coming to his Mass from all over Malta and you couldn’t park to save your life.” Eventually, Iklin became a parish in its own right.
Nowadays, she considers him to be a reference point for when she needs guidance in her personal life. “When you talk to him, he gives you a sense of security,” she said. Because he calls a spade a spade, he helps people to see things clearly, she said. “And when you speak to him, it immediately dawns on you what decision you need to take.”
Paul Borg Cardona, 33
When Paul Borg Cardona decided to get married a few years ago, he asked Mgr Scicluna to celebrate his wedding Mass. Unfortunately, he got caught up in a crucial congress and could not do so.
“But when I told him I was going to go to Rome for my honeymoon, he said: ‘Fantastic - call me when you’re on the plane’. And then he went on to give us two tickets for an audience with the Pope,” Mr Borg Cardona, from Qormi, said.
Although Mgr Scicluna spent his childhood in Qormi – he did his Holy Communion and confirmation at the parish of St Sebastian – Mr Borg Cardona, got to know Mgr Sciculna in his early 20s, when he was still a member of the MUSEUM society and Mgr Scicluna, was the postulator in the cause of Blessed Dun Ġorġ.
He recalls the day of Dun Ġorġ’s exhumation. “I stayed outside as I was quite scared,” he said. “But Mgr Sciculna came out for me: ‘Pawlu, you have to come in, you don’t know what you’re missing.’ I treasure that day as the most memorable of my life,” he said.
Having studied Dun Ġorġ’s life in depth, Mr Borg Cardona believes the saint was a major influence in the Auxiliary Bishop’s philosophy of life.
“Like Dun Ġorġ, he listens to everyone, and does not make any distinction between role, age or status.”
He remembers the time when he was involved in the restoration work at the MUSEUM chapel.
“Mgr Scicluna used to come and visit us often, and we would try and kiss his hand, but he would brush it off immediately, laughing and saying he was not the Pope.”
Mr Borg Cardona was quite disappointed when Mgr Scicluna was not nominated the first Maltese cardinal.
“I texted him, saying he really deserved it.”
What was his reply?
“He joked as always, he texted back, saying ‘I am still too young to be a cardinal and way too short’.”
According to Mr Borg Cardona, Mgr Scicluna “is a beautiful gift for the Church in Malta”. He believes the Pope “sacrificed him for Malta”, so as to give Mgr Cremona “much needed staff”.
Mr Borg Cardona describes Mgr Scicluna in the same way Dun Ġorġ used to describe St Paul. “He is small in stature but big in spirit.”
“Without wanting to, you just have to love him,” he said.