Villa Francia, Ħal Lija
6th June 2016
First of all, I would like to thank Mrs Muscat for hosting us and receiving us in your home, your institutional home. I know that you have different concerns but I know also how great your love is for this place, for Lija, where we live. I would like also to ask you to convey our best wishes to your family, especially your husband and kids. And I greet also the Honourable ministers, Hon. Carmelo Abela and Hon. Evarist Bartolo, and the Hon. Francis Zammit Dimech.
I would like to bring to this Symposium, the words of Pope Francis. I think that quoting Francis is the best way to contribute to further understanding and also to a proper positioning of what we are doing today. My quote of Pope Francis is from Evangelii Gaudium (n. 210), where the Pope talks about the new forms of poverty and vulnerability, and he says, “It is essential to draw near to new forms of poverty and vulnerability, in which we are called to recognize the suffering Christ, even if this appears to bring us no tangible and immediate benefits”. I think this is one of the great challenges of society today because we only do things that may give us a benefit, whether economical or cultural. But the Pope is saying that we need to approach situations even if we are called to recognise that they may not bring us tangible and immediate benefits”. He says, “I think of the homeless, the addicted, refugees, indigenous peoples, the elderly who are increasingly isolated and abandoned, and many others”. Then he says, “Migrants present a particular challenge for me, since I am the pastor of a Church without frontiers”. There is this famous NGO called Médecins Sans Frontières, and the Pope reminds me of a parallel expression ‘Église Sans Frontieres’, a Church without borders, without frontiers, “a Church which considers herself mother to all. For this reason, I exhort all countries to a generous openness which, rather than fearing the loss of local identity will prove capable of creating new forms of cultural synthesis”. These are the words of the Pope.
“How beautiful are those cities which overcome paralysing mistrust”. But this is something our people have a challenge on, this ‘paralysing mistrust’. “Integrate those who are different and make this very integration a new factor of development! How attractive are those cities which, even in their architectural design, are full of spaces which connect, relate and favour the recognition of others!”
When Pope Francis decided to go to Lesbos, on the 16th of April of this year, he challenged Europe and us, to remain rooted in a culture of hospitality and human rights. And this is what he said on the Greek island of Lesbos: “The worries expressed by institutions and people, both in Greece and in other European countries, are understandable and legitimate. We must never forget, however, that migrants, rather than simply being a statistic, are first of all persons who have faces, names and individual stories”. This is something Prof. Agius has already hinted at. I’m sure it’s going to be a leitmotif of today’s works. “Europe is the homeland of human rights, and whoever sets foot on European soil ought to sense this, and thus become more aware of the duty to respect and defend those rights. Unfortunately, some, including many infants, could not even make it to these shores: they died at sea, victims of unsafe and inhumane means of transport, prey to unscrupulous thugs”.
“You, the residents of Lesbos”, and I think that he can actually say this also to Malta and Gozo, “show that in these lands, the cradle of civilization, the heart of humanity continues to beat; a humanity that before all recognizes others as brothers and sisters, a humanity that wants to build bridges and recoils from the idea of putting up walls to make us feel safer”. This is something you also meet when you go to the Holy Land nowadays, the idea of building walls to feel safe. The Pope says that “in reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to confrontations”. And so we have walls being built in the HolyLand, and walls being built in Europe, and we are creating a new style of apartheid. If you go to the Holy Land it is so obvious, and if we continue building walls in Europe it will become more and more obvious in the future.
Something that the Pope did not mention but the Archbishop of Malta needs to mention is that we have a narrative, which has to inspire us and also help us build a local theology of hospitality, and that is Chapter 27 and 28 of the Acts of the Apostles. We know the beginnings of our faith to the decision of the Maltese people and of Publius to greet over 270 people who were shipwrecked on our shores. Publius actually was very generous with them, he let them stay in his countryside home near Burmarrad, for three days, I mean not a mean feat! Over 270 people staying at your table for three days, and then he was wise enough to let them roam on the islands, I’m sure there were also some who married on the islands, who knows? The Acts of Apostles however talks about these ‘barbaroi’ who demonstrated an unusual hospitality and made this narrative inspire us even today. Thank you.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta