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Oh God, it’s hot inside this church

I was thinking the other day, as I stood in the middle of the church of Lija at 10pm, how desperately we need to make our churches more snappy, more 2017.

The bearers heaved and hoisted and carried the considerable Salvatur statue inside the church, and we all followed in for the conclusive rituals of the feast. But the minute everyone stepped inside, there was a collective “gasp!” It was not a “gasp! How magnificent our festa is!”, nor was it a “gasp! The Salvatur nearly didn’t make it through the door!” No, it was a biological I’ll-gasp-to-breathe-and-survive reaction. It felt like someone had filled one of those party ballons with sticky stifling hot air and let it out in the church. No palju or fan could make any difference. People were rolling their eyes on the verge of fainting; had we gone to a sauna, we would have been dripping much less.

It was a moment of communal suffering, everyone telling each other how they are the ones who are feeling the most feverish and not you; drama and melodrama galore. Still, it made me think that all the parish priests of Malta need to have an urgent pow-wow and brainstorm some ideas on how to make churches more attractive.

“Balzan church is all air-conditioned,” said a friend of mine in between these desperate gasps. She was fanning the both of us – and the sweat was surreally being blown away in slow motion, in manner of Rocky Balboa on a ring.

It so happened that the parish priest chose that very moment to ask the congregation to donate generously to the church coffers, so that “two beautiful, tower-like chandeliers” could be purchased for the church.

“Chandeliers?!”

“Chandeliers?!”

“Chandeliers?!”

That was just me on a repetitive loop, don’t worry, the congregation did not unite in a sudden uproar – it hardly could, could it, given that all of us were in a near comatose with the heat.

How can people be expected to go to church and sit down in a bubble of hotness?

Now, by way of explanation, I have to say that I think the Lija church is a historic gem. And I am a fervent fan of preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of our churches because they were built to mesmerise the soul, and God knows we need that. I also think that the kappillan is ever so hardworking, and his dedication knows no bounds. But let’s face it. In this day and age what difference would a brand new linfa make to the church? Will I go to Mass, look at this glittery glass linfa and feel closer to heaven? Hardly. With my concentration span of a mosquito, the chances are that I will deviate my thoughts to “Oh poor sexton, he has to clean that every week.”

So, in the context of Enemalta registering the highest electricity peak load ever recorded in the Maltese islands at any one time, I don’t know what made the kappillan contemplate collecting for a chandelier instead of an air-conditioning unit.

Think shops. Do you go to shops which don’t have air-conditioning? Think cinema. Would you go to a cinema if there were no air-conditioning? Therefore how can people be expected to go to church and sit down in a bubble of… hotness?

I know, I know, it would be rather expensive to cool the church, firstly because they are vast, high spaces, but secondly because you have to ensure the manufactured air does not damage the stone or the works of art. However, I am sure that church-goers would gladly fork out the money so that their prayer space is a bit more pleasant to stay in; and I am sure that the Archbishop can strike a deal with the Energy Minister for discounted tariffs in return for some indulgences.

The result would probably be that more people – young people, elderly, those in need – would be happier to attend church if it is more attractive. Some will tut-tut and say that in the olden days, or as we love to muse, “dari”, no one ever complained of heat. Wrong. Look at the way churches were built – lofty, broad, thick walls – when aircon was not yet invented churches were much cooler than any other house in the village.

Moreover, churches used to dazzle when they were brand new: the gold glittered, the stone shimmered, the paintings pouted with pride. But in this day and age we need different things to help us focus and meditate. One of them is cool air.

There’s other things of course. The décor, for example. Take the church of St Julian’s – I know it’s a Richard England opus – but my God, that bright pink. It’s more pink than my daughter’s bedroom. I can imagine the parish priest there wincing and squinting every morning as he saunters in his sanctuary. Dare I question if the colour scheme may be updated a bit?

Parking; Mass times stuck to the church doors outside; toilets; cool drinks at the end of Mass; landscaped gardens would also make churches more inviting. It would also be great if Maltese churches opened all day long not just at Mass times. People would be able to walk in and sit down in peaceful solitude for some respite from the stressful world. Imagine stepping into the vast space with some baroque music in the background, wouldn’t our souls be uplifted?

And if there’s cool air, our spirits would rise even more.

[email protected]
Twitter: @krischetcuti

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