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A much loved and highly esteemed bishop

Archbishop Mauro Caruana. Photo: Giuseppe Felici, RomeArchbishop Mauro Caruana. Photo: Giuseppe Felici, Rome

Archbishop Mauro Caruana’s episcopate was characterised by the politico-ecclesiastic dispute of the 1920s and 1930s, one of whose chief issues was the participation of priests in politics. The British government and the Holy See were both dragged into the dispute.

At the local government’s request, an apostolic visitor was sent to Malta in the person of Friar Minor Paschal Robinson, who reported that it did not appear that the clergy had exerted undue influence in political matters. As he tackled these tumultuous events in the life of the Church in Malta, and fully aware of the need of a weapon to fight the growing anti-clericalism on the island, in July 1928, Caruana founded the Giunta pro Buona Stampa, under whose auspices the Catholic weekly Leħen is-Sewwa was published.

Furthermore, to encourage the spread of edifying literature, he subsidised the publication of La Diocesi (1916), Malta Missjunarja (1932) and Lucerna (1937). He set up a diocesan board for the preservation of old ecclesiastical monuments, and between June 9 and 16, 1935, jointly with Mgr Michael Gonzi, then Bishop of Gozo, he summoned the first Regional Council for the Dioceses of Malta and Gozo. The papal delegation on the occasion was led by Cardinal Alexis Lépicier (1863-1936).

Caruana coming out of St John’s Co-Cathedral after celebrating a pontifical High Mass on February 10, 1935. Seminarian George Sciriha is seen behind him. Photo: Joe Borg BonelloCaruana coming out of St John’s Co-Cathedral after celebrating a pontifical High Mass on February 10, 1935. Seminarian George Sciriha is seen behind him. Photo: Joe Borg Bonello

Caruana had a fine, commanding presence, ready humour and his flashes of temper naturally quick but schooled by monastic training. He was extremely keen on outdoor activities and sport. In fact, he regularly went sailing and fishing. He was an ardent music lover and had radio sets fitted in the book-lined attics of his palaces in Valletta and Mdina to enable him to listen to great operas. He was sometimes to be seen smoking a pipe on the roof of the palace.

In 1923, Caruana invited Madre Margherita De Brincat (proclaimed venerable on January 21, 2014), foundress of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who was then general superior, to care for the House of Adoration in Valletta, which had been abandoned by the Sisters of Adoration. Although the house presented many financial difficulties, De Brincat accepted with enthusiasm, pleased to have nuns, at last, who could adore Jesus continually in the Eucharist. The house was officially opened in 1924, and De Brincat was the first superior.

Complying with Pope Pius XI’s wish to see the laity cooperate with the clergy to spread Christ’s message to the world, Caruana canonically set up Catholic Action in 1930, under the title of Federazione della Gioventù Cattolica Maltese. Moreover, despite ordering an inquiry, in 1916, into the practices of the Societas Doctrinae Christianae (founded by Fr Giorgio Preca in 1907 soon after his ordination to the priesthood), vowing that he would never approve it, he canonically approved the MUSEUM for the dioceses of Malta and Gozo on April 12, 1932. By that time, Preca (canonised on June 3, 2007) was known, loved and sought after by many Maltese from all walks of life.

Caruana was sometimes to be seen smoking a pipe on the roof of the palace

After long and careful deliberation, Caruana enriched his diocese with two new religious congregations: that of St Paul (1921) and that of the Missionary Sisters of Jesus of Nazareth (1934). In spite of his diocesan commitments, he always found time to give conferences on the rule of St Benedict to the cloistered Benedictine nuns of St Peter in Mdina. As a true monk, he had a great esteem for this state of life and he felt very displeased when some people, either through ignorance or malice, did not treat its adherents with due respect. Caruana, having great confidence in the prayers of these souls consecrated to God, used to recommend to them the needs of his diocese.

Caruana crowning the statue of Maria Bambina at the Senglea Marina.Caruana crowning the statue of Maria Bambina at the Senglea Marina.

On September 4, 1921, the breaking dawn tinted Senglea in a splendour of colours as the sun rose to announce a long-awaited day. In the evening of that memorable day, Caruana, assisted by Auxiliary Bishop Angelo Portelli, OP, and Bishop of Gozo Giovanni Maria Camilleri, OSA, and among the deafening cheers and fervent applause of all those gathered at the Senglea Marina, crowned the gracious image of Maria Bambina, thus making of the Senglea basilica a unique Marian sanctuary.

Furthermore, to mark the 15th centenary of the Council of Ephesus, he crowned the old icon of the Madonna of Damascus attributed to St Luke, which had been brought to Malta from Rhodes in 1530 by the Knights of St John.

1931 marked the 40th anniversary of the encyclical letter Rerum Novarum on the rights and duties of capital and labour, issued by Pope Leo XIII on May15, 1891. After he traversed the whole island with Fr Charles Plater, SJ, in January 1921, to set up centres for the benefit of workmen, this anniversary served as a fitting opportunity for Caruana to express once again the attention he gave to the working class. By means of a special pastoral letter, he launched a programme of conferences so that workers might know their rights and duties according to the teaching of the Church.

Moreover, through his pastoral visits, of which he accomplished two cycles (1916-1921 and 1926) and by means of his pastoral letters, he always insisted that the predominant religion of these islands should not consist in what is apparent and in external manifestations, but in the inward conviction of faith. By this, Caruana did not intend disapproval of the external cult. On the contrary, he knew that this comes spontaneously from one’s inward conviction and therefore he promoted also that which was external, condemning only abuses. He always wanted that, in religious functions, the singing, music, ornaments, vestments, the ringing of bells and everything connected with these external acts of worship should always be pleasing to men but worthy of God in whose honour they are intended.

Great devotion by the people was shown in 1939 on the occasion of the Diocesan Eucharistic Congress. A solemn Te Deum was sung in all churches of the diocese on April 20, 1940, in celebration of the Bishop’s silver jubilee. The occasion was marked by a letter and a special blessing from venerable Pius XII.

Caruana had been in failing health for some years, which precluded frequent public appearances. During the most critical moments for Malta in World War II, on June 9, 1942, at the request of Caruana, Pope Pius XII appointed Mgr Emanuel Galea (declared Servant of God on June 24, 2003), Titular Bishop of Tralles in Asia and Auxiliary Bishop of Malta to ease the burden borne by the archbishop. He was consecrated at the Cathedral in Mdina on July 5, 1942, by Archbishop Caruana, assisted by Bishop Michael Gonzi and Mgr Archdeacon Joseph Apap Bologna. This took place during the continuous Luftwaffe blitz of the islands.

In his later years, Caruana spent more and more time in Rome, and greatly desired to be allowed to resign his See and to end his life in his monastery at Fort Augustus. Among the last few ceremonies which, with great effort, he attended or even officiated at, was the consecration of 1st Coast Regiment, Royal Malta Artillery, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, at Fort St Elmo on June 28, 1942.

The ceremony of the formal presentation of the George Cross to Malta on the Palace Square, Valletta, on September 13, 1942, was also graced by the presence of the Archbishop. He was also received by King George VI during the latter’s 20-hour visit to Malta on June 20, 1943. On that same day, Caruana collapsed and became seriously ill.

Two months before his death, on October 23, 1943, Caruana received a cable from Cardinal Luigi Maglione (1877-1944). He was informed that the pope had appointed Michael Gonzi coadjutor of Malta with the right of succession. Gonzi had been consecrated by Caruana on July 20, 1924.

The day before his death, Caruana managed to pay an impromptu visit to an exhibition of the works of E.V. Cremona held at the British Institute and returned to his residence in the best of spirits, having also placed an order for a painting of the fish market and Liesse Hill.

On December 17, 1943, Caruana, with his job accomplished, breathed his last at 9.15am, at the age of 76, at Casa Leone XIII, Sliema. He was attended by Carmelo Farrugia, parish priest of St Gregory’s church, from whom he received the Viaticum. The Anointing of the Sick was administered to him by Bishop Gonzi, his lieutenant and colleague and also his appointed successor. Caruana, who was conscious to the last, was also attended by his doctor Salvino Debono and his nearest relations.

His death being announced, church bells tolled in mourning and flags flew at half-mast on all government buildings and establishments. The day after, the body of the archbishop was taken, by a private cortege, to the Bishop’s Palace, Valletta, under the leaden skies of a grey December afternoon. People lined the streets through which the cortege passed from Sliema to Valletta, and stood in the softly falling rain waiting for admittance to file past the archbishop’s body arrayed in full episcopal vestments and mitre, lying on the pall-covered catafalque. The only light came from the flickering candles.

The funeral cortege going through the streets of Valletta.The funeral cortege going through the streets of Valletta.

The solemn obsequies took place on December 21. At 8.30am, a funeral cortege left the Bishop’s Palace and filed, between the rubble of Valletta, up Bishop’s Street, down Kingsway, round into Merchant Street, and then to St John’s Co-Cathedral. The crowd stood in respectful silence as the funeral procession moved towards the Co-Cathedral. Mgrs Galea and Gonzi walked in front of the bier on which the coffin was carried. The archbishop’s regalia and decorations were carried on crepe-covered cushions behind the bier. Viscount Gort, immediately followed.

During WWI, poverty was widespread in Malta. Caruana founded Pro Pauperibus, a bread fund in every parish to provide for needy families

After the procession entered the church, the public was admitted to assist the final obsequies. No wreaths were carried in the cortege and there were no flowers in the cathedral. The high altar stood in all its grand simplicity of design. Midway down the aisle, ablaze with candles from crown to foot, was the chapelle ardente in which the catafalque was laid. Bishop Gonzi, after intoning the Kyrie, blessed the catafalque and moved to the high altar from where he celebrated the pontifical High Requiem Mass. The Mass was sung in plain Gregorian chant by a Schola Cantorum composed of members of the secular and regular clergy.

Caruana’s body lies in state at the Archbishop’s Palace, surrounded by candles and men of Royal Malta Artillery. At his feet rests his bishop’s hat.Caruana’s body lies in state at the Archbishop’s Palace, surrounded by candles and men of Royal Malta Artillery. At his feet rests his bishop’s hat.

After the Mass, Bishop Emanuel Galea delivered the funeral oration in Maltese. He paid tribute to the late Archbishop by reviewing the chief events in his episcopate. He also highlighted the fact that his guiding principle was the attainment of perfection in all that he laid his hands to do in the vineyard of the Lord. Following the oration, the five prescribed absolutions were given. The final absolution was given by Gonzi, whose words “Requiescant in pace”, with the response “Amen”, brought the impressive funeral service to its close.

In accordance with the archbishop’s wish, the interment took place at 4.30pm at St Gregory’s parish church, Sliema. In fact, the building of this church had occupied much of Caruana’s attention, it being built on his own initiative in 1923, due to his remarkable devotion to the great Benedictine pope.

Caruana governed the diocese of Malta for 28 years and lived to see his Maltese home and people earn the admiration of the world in ordeals which, as far as age and infirmities permitted him, he shared with them. His tenure of office started when the nations of the world were locked in conflict, and it ended in the midst of another bitter struggle.

The epitaph inscribed on the marble slab which seals Caruana’s tomb at St Gregory’s parish church, Sliema.The epitaph inscribed on the marble slab which seals Caruana’s tomb at St Gregory’s parish church, Sliema.

With the appointment, on October 23, 1943, of Michael Gonzi, Bishop of Gozo, as coadjutor with the right of succession, the Maltese nation, while mourning the passing away of its pastor, had the consolation and fortune that at a time when world events were moving fast, the diocese was not left without a pastor as had happened in 1914-1915, when six months elapsed before the appointment of the late Archbishop Caruana.

In a long and eloquent tribute to Archbishop Caruana (published as a supplement to the Malta Review of December 21, 1943), the Rev. Arturo Bonnici, diocesan secretary, provides some interesting facts and figures. We learn that during his episcopate, Caruana issued almost 500 pastoral and circular letters. He also erected five new parishes: Sacro Cuor (1918) and St Gregory (1940) in Sliema, Santa Venera (1918), Gżira (1921) and St Sebastian (1936) in Qormi.

During World War I, poverty was widespread in Malta. Caruana’s paternal heart was soon moved as he founded Pro Pauperibus, a bread fund in every parish to provide for needy families especially during the period of unemployment after the war. Besides this, one cannot omit to mention the support he always gave to the Society of St Vincent de Paul, a society that was known to everybody for its works of charity among the poor? He contributed to this society out of his own income. “Let us not forget,” wrote Bonnici, “the generous help and alms he used to distribute privately and daily.”

Fortis et ardens (strong and burning, ref. Songs 8, 6) was his episcopal motto. This was especially shown in the way he lovingly and paternally entreated, warned, ordered and reproached his subjects. Some of them, roused by party spirits, opposed and insulted him during the politico-ecclesiastic strife. The majority, however, responded to his calls.

Dom Mauro, a sound scholar, an erudite theologian, an accomplished linguist and a fine musician of a righteous and constant character, drew everybody to him. It is for this reason that there were no high-stationed men who came into contact with him on account of his high position, who did not feel his magnetism. There was no Governor of Malta who after some time did not become his personal friend. There were no men of learning, experience and wisdom, sent to Malta either by the pope or the king, who did not leave the island full of admiration for the gentleness, rectitude, accuracy and ability with which Archbishop Mauro Crauana was endowed.

Concluded.

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