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Gozitan history in the making: 1,000 issues of Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex

Today, the magazine is published monthly in A4 format and sent to around 700 households. Photo: Daniel Cilia

Today, the magazine is published monthly in A4 format and sent to around 700 households. Photo: Daniel Cilia

Considering the notion of double-insularity and the fact that from various perspectives, Gozo has been and is still considered by some as the backwater of the main island of Malta, the island of the three hills, as it has been dubbed, has fared quite well throughout the ages.

Bishop Pietro Pace, who introduced the first printing press and official periodical for the Gozo diocese in 1886. Photo: The Bishop’s Curia, Gozo/Paul FalzonBishop Pietro Pace, who introduced the first printing press and official periodical for the Gozo diocese in 1886. Photo: The Bishop’s Curia, Gozo/Paul Falzon

Since Canon Gian Piet Franġisk Agius De Soldanis published his monumental Il Gozo Antico e Modero, Sacro e Profano, publications that refer to Gozo and publications about the island have grown in quantity, and I would dare say, also in quality. However, besides published books, there is nothing better than a periodical or a regular magazine as a means of spreading knowledge and making a place better known. Gozo’s Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex is a case in point; with its 1,000th issue on our doorstep, it has literally made history. No lover of Gaulitana would think twice about making his own a collection of Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.

The history of Gozo’s main periodical, the name of which can literally be translated as ‘Life in Gozo’, takes us back into the last decades of the 20th century. Gozo’s main ecclesiastical historian Rev. Dr Joseph Bezzina states that it was Bishop Pietru Pace of Gozo – later Archbishop of Malta – who had asked the help of the Salesians in Rome in order to establish a tipografia vescovile, through which Mgr Luigi Vella could publish the first issue of his Il Propugnatore back in 1886. Il Messaggiere di Maria, Id-Devot ta’ Marija and L-Ewkaristija, later Ġesù Ewkaristija, can be considered – together with the Il Propugnatore – as the precursors of Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.

From the very start, work on printing the magazine has been carried out at the Gozo Press, Għajnsielem. Photo: Anthony GrechFrom the very start, work on printing the magazine has been carried out at the Gozo Press, Għajnsielem. Photo: Anthony Grech

The special issue for August-September 1989 celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Gozo diocese.The special issue for August-September 1989 celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Gozo diocese.

The first formal journal for Gozo was Għawdex; its first issue was published on June 10, 1945. Who else could be its editor if not the erudite and intellectual Franciscan friar Akkursju Xerri, OFM, the priest from Victoria who was revered by one and all? He had studied at the Sacro Cuore of Milan and had ample friends in Rome; both Church and State looked up to him as a Gozitan patriot of fine tastes.

He remained at the helm of the periodical until 1962. Then, the magazine passed into the hands of Edmea Tabone, who served as editor for the next two years, a true example of female emancipation in a male Church such as that of Gozo in the mid-1960s. It seemed as if the spirit of Vatican Council II was blowing all over the island of Calypso. Tabone commanded respect and was known for her love of the Legion of Mary, which had just been established on the island a few years before.

Subsequent editors of the periodical were Dun Nikol Ġ. Cauchi (1964-1967), Dun Salv Muscat (1967-1969), Dun Anton Dimech (1970-2002), Dun Reuben Micallef (2002-2006), Joseph W. Psaila (2006-2016) and Francesco Pio Attard (2017- ).

Cauchi, who hailed from Għarb, was ordained bishop in the late 1960s and was named Bishop of Gozo in 1972. He was the founding-father of Gozo’s second publishing house, Lumen Christi Publications (after the Orphans’ Press), and was known for his shrewdness and intellectual abilities. He was himself an accomplished writer and author of dozens of books and booklets related to faith and doctrine.

History, religion, culture, politics, folklore, philately, literature, ornithology, economics, sports, local agenda; you name it and you find it in Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex

Cauchi also penned a history of Ta’ Pinu Sanctuary and implemented Vatican Council II in the tiny diocese that he was to lead from 1972 to 2006. He was hardly 37 when he was ordained bishop. The most important fact of all was that Bishop Cauchi was all out in favour of the printed word and he did his best to promote Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.

Victoria-born Patri Akkursju Xerri, OFM, the first editor of the diocesan newspaper. Photo: John CremonaVictoria-born Patri Akkursju Xerri, OFM, the first editor of the diocesan newspaper. Photo: John Cremona

An official photo of Bishop Nikol Cauchi, the new Apostolic Administrator of Gozo, who had just served as the third editor, graced the cover of the April 1967 issue.An official photo of Bishop Nikol Cauchi, the new Apostolic Administrator of Gozo, who had just served as the third editor, graced the cover of the April 1967 issue.

When Għawdex was published for the first time, it was presented in the form of a journal, but it was not to remain so. When he took over as editor in 1965 – co-incidentally the year of Malta’s independence and the end of Vatican Council II – Dun Nikol Cauchi, the future bishop of the island, changed its format into that of a proper periodical; this was in July 1966.

In January 1965, Cauchi had already decided that the periodical should be given a different name in continuity with the needs of the time. He baptised it Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex, and it is as such that is known today by one and all.

Many years later, in January 2000, as if to commemorate the beginning of a new millennium, the periodical began to be published in A4 size. At that time, Dun Anton Dimech, a zealous priest from Żebbuġ who taught the Maltese language at the Sacred Heart Minor Seminary and who was known for his sociological writings, was serving as its editor. Gradually, the periodical reflected the life of all that took place in Gozo, from the bishop’s main agenda to the latest accomplishments of the Ministry for Gozo which the government had established in 1987.

As from January 15, 1965, the publication’s name was changed to Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.As from January 15, 1965, the publication’s name was changed to Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.

Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex is a testimony to the sterling work that both Church and State do in favour of Gozo. The periodical covers the events that take place on the island in such a way that cooperation and teamwork have become hallmark of the main events; it is against this background that the collaboration between the diocese of Gozo and the Ministry for Gozo has showed itself to be both fruitful and wise. At the end of day, trust lies at the basis of all successful projects, and in Gozo – the island being so small – things cannot work out better if not through the support of one and all.

The greatest contribution of Gozo’s main periodical to Maltese society at large – not to say the international community – lies in the fact that it has managed to pool all resources together and provide Gozo with an attractive publication full of information and knowledge. History, religion, culture, politics, folklore, philately, literature, ornithology, economics, sports, local agenda; you name it and you find it in Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex.

Although themes are addressed from the Gozitan perspective and with a religious agenda, the various writers and contributors do their best to be professional and up-to-date in the knowledge they provide to readers. Anton F. Attard’s contributions to the folklore of Gozo are certainly a treasury in themselves, being both original and meticulous. Fr Joseph Bezzina’s page from the National Archives, which has been running for decades, is a must for history lovers. Book reviews are also to be found in the periodical, thus creating an encyclopaedia of publications related to Gozo. Some rare photographs have also featured throughout the years.

The first issue of Għawdex on June 10, 1945.The first issue of Għawdex on June 10, 1945.

The Gozo Press, which is the printing press for Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex, has been doing a wonderful job as it publishes the periodical on a monthly basis in a constant battle against time.

Poems, photographs and personal experiences continue to add to the lustre of the magazine. The missionary aspect runs through the publication; and all the priests of the diocese of Gozo, both those who live locally and those who work abroad, receive either a soft or a hard copy of the magazine.

In spite of all the trials that Gozo’s main periodical has had to face during the seven decades that have gone by, Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex has managed to survive the vicissitudes of time. Hard work, a constant sense of sacrifice and a strong will, and last but not least, a natural love for Gozo and all that is stands for, have been the secret behind its success.

May Il-Ħajja f’Għawdex continue to be published to inform us about all that Gozo has to offer as we struggle in the multicultural and pluralistic society that are characterising the small island that was once known as being ‘the island where time stood still’. I very much wonder if the dictum can still apply.

Correction to Imgherbeb feature

John Bugeja has kindly drawn my attention to the large bronze letter from the ill-fated SS Sardinia, that Giovanni Bugeja’s Timber Depot at Barriera Wharf had in their office. The letter was, in fact, an ‘R’, not an ‘S’ as I wrote in my article last Sunday. People who lost it – as in control of emotions, getting angry or upset – which in Maltese is titlef l-r (to lose the R), used to be advised to go to the depot to find it!

Michael Cassar

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