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   Sat, December 23, 2006Steve Mallia
   'Snow' adds to Christmas cheer
    Sun, December 24, 2006 - as reported by the Sunday Times...

   Snow is falling... children playing in the 'snow' in Valletta  yesterday morning as shoppers enjoyed the sun's warmth (Photos: Matthew Mirabelli)
Children had the time of their lives yesterday as they played in the 'snow' that fell by the law courts in Republic Street, Valletta, under a blue sky and bright sunshine as adults hurried along to see to last-minute Christmas shopping.

Some hurried past, covering their heads to protect their hair from the falling flurries. Others laughed as their relatives and friends had the foamy snow stuck all over their head.

The mini-blizzard was provided by the Republic Street Business Community Association as part of its Christmas parade in the city.  Girls, outfitted in gold, danced in the street in between five floats, while two towering men walked on stilts.

Event co-ordinator Joseph Borda said the event was meant to attract people to the city.

And the plan must have worked, because thousands flocked to Valletta yesterday.

Marthese Pollacco, of St Julian's, said she woke up early to scour the shops for a present for her "somewhat difficult" husband. Otherwise, she said, her Christmas shopping was done, adding that she had started early this year.

Benny Francica, of Marsascala, also hit the shops yesterday morning.  Why did he leave his shopping so late?  Most of his Christmas shopping was done but there were some names left on the list, he said.  "You change your mind on some things and forget others," he explained.

Norman Sciberras was out with his sons Kyle and Nathan looking for toys for them and their cousins.  The boys rushed to greet one of the many Father Christmases along the way.

The business community has described this year as better than previous ones.  Victor Fenech Azzopardi, president of the Republic Street Business Community Association, said that the weather was favourable and many chose to shop in Valletta.

Association secretary Paul Fenech said there was a good feeling among the business community, adding that the Park and Ride scheme probably attracted more people to Valletta as it made access easier.

By 4 p.m. yesterday, 3,000 people had been ferried between Blata l-Bajda and Valletta, a spokesman for the Roads Ministry said.

    Girl gets smile in her Christmas stocking
   Sat, December 23, 2006 - as reported by the Sunday Times...

Amanda Attard, nine, underwent surgery to allow her to smile. On Thursday she felt the first results of her second surgery - a twitch of the muscle in the left side of her face. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Christmas has come early for nine-year-old Amanda Attard, whose biggest dream - to be able to smile - is finally within reach.

Soon, the blonde girl from St Paul's Bay will no longer have to use hugs as a means of showing affection - she will be able to smile at her friends too.

After two major surgeries, at a price of about Lm25,000, Amanda, who was born with a condition causing facial paralysis, is closer to seeing her dream come true.

Unable to contain her excitement, Amanda described how she felt a twitch in the left side of her face on Thursday morning, something that means the muscle transplant surgery she underwent in October was a success.

"I am very happy," she said when contacted yesterday. Although this does not come close to describing how the girl is really feeling, her infectious happy laughter does away with the need for words.

Now Amanda and her parents - Anthony and Karen - can only wait patiently for the daily improvements that should culminate in a full smile for the blue-eyed girl.

She was born with the Moebius syndrome, which causes facial paralysis, leaving her with an expressionless face.  Moreover, the condition, which affects one person in two million, made it difficult for Amanda to eat and talk.

Earlier this year Toronto-based facial paralysis expert Ronald Zucker operated on the right side of Amanda's face at a hospital in Birmingham, during which a muscle from the girl's thigh was transplanted to her face.  Five days before Easter the girl felt the transplanted muscle twitch, and now she has full control of it.

"She has very good automatic and spontaneous control, something which the doctors were amazed to see," Mr Attard told The Times.

He pointed out that the first surgery, which was fraught with complications, has also made it easier for Amanda to eat and talk.

The girl made a better recovery this time round, although it took slightly longer for the first results to be felt.

"We were very worried when nothing happened after six weeks passed," he said.  Initial results of the first operation were seen after six weeks.

But their patience was rewarded and early on Thursday morning Amanda shouted to her parents, who were elsewhere in the house, to tell them that she felt a movement.  The full results will not be seen before a few weeks, but the Attards are confident it was well worth going through with the surgeries.

Mr Attard expressed his heartfelt gratitude to people who donated money to enable the family to fund the surgery.  He said the account (HSBC Amanda Help Me To Smile Fund number 075039560050) is being kept open because the girl will have to travel for annual visits and might need small interventions in the future.

Cynthia Busuttil 


 Sat, December 23rd 2006


  A long time coming - as reported in the Sunday Times

Mgr Paul Cremona: "There's a difference between being a politician and being a Bishop, because a politician prepares himself. He's striving for it, he's working for it. Up till the day before you're appointed (bishop), you don't even reflect on it".  Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Archbishop-elect Mgr Paul Cremona will next month take over the helm of the Maltese Church.  Steve Mallia found out whether he is ready to navigate stormy waters.

On December 1, 1976, a flat on Tower Road, Sliema, could be bought for Lm9,000, a three-course Sunday lunch at a quality restaurant cost Lm1.75, and Eddie Fenech Adami was still waiting for his opportunity to seize the Nationalist Party leadership.  Squeezed into a single column on the far left hand side of The Times' front page - vying for attention with eight other news items - was a tiny report announcing that Mgr Giuseppe Mercieca had two days earlier been appointed the new Archbishop.

The contrast of Mgr Cremona's public induction as the new head of Malta's Episcopal conference could not have been more stark.  The kind of terse statement that has characterised the Curia for years was ripped to shreds in less than an hour as a feast unfurled; of information and forthcoming.  His opening words were fresh enough to pierce a gaping hole in the cobwebs that have gathered in the musty rooms of the Church's headquarters, and the din of his actions caused them to come tumbling down.  Armed with the weapons used by many a successful conqueror - surprise and charm - he flung his open arms out to the people and, so far at least, they have thrown theirs straight back.

Truth be told, they hardly know what's hit them.  And 30 years is a long wait. In that time there have been six general elections, three Popes, five US Presidents, EU membership - and flats on Tower Road don't cost Lm9,000 any more.  The world has changed, and so has Malta; the accusation is that the Church hasn't.

"The Church has changed," counters Mgr Cremona, "but it has a definite message, and must adapt itself to the culture so it can get this message across.  No culture has remained intact over the years.  The question I would put, though I don't know the answer, is will this kind of capitalistic culture last forever?  If so, it will be the only one in history, so I doubt it.  It would be easier for us to say we think with the culture.  We can't.  The message has to come across as the Lord has given it to us."

The 60-year-old Archbishop-elect has a difficult task on his hands.  Mass attendance has gone into freefall in recent years, with an increasing number of young people choosing to spend Sunday morning watching television rather than planting their knees on a cold marble floor.  "Obviously, I will attempt to bring them back because that's part of my mission; by making the Church in itself more welcoming - because the kind of celebrations we have must be more in tune with the times." He readily admits a number of services are dull, but says too many parishioners only focus their attention on God when they are in need.  "If this is the kind of relationship they have, how can people come to Mass?  It's only when people want a closer friendship that the Mass begins to make sense."

Almost every response from Mgr Cremona contains two seemingly conflicting elements: the spiritual and the practical. But given his background this is hardly surprising.

The son of a clerk in the British services and a housewife, he was the middle sibling - he has an elder brother and a younger sister - in what he describes as a happy childhood.  Despite what he describes as a totally un-Dominican upbringing, he joined the order when he was barely 17 because he "felt something" in his heart.  He went on to obtain a doctorate in moral theology in Rome 11 years later, and served as a prior in Rabat for six years as well as being parish priest in Guardamangia and Sliema.  "I once told an Anglican woman that I don't know why I became a Dominican, but I know why I'm happy now."

His smiles and easy-going manner reflect, outwardly at least, an immense ease with himself.  Like many other priests, Mgr Cremona had his doubts before joining - he contemplated the idea of married life and had a circle of friends of both sexes but never dated - and even after, "but my vocation always overcame this kind of thought. The call entails an element of offering.  It's not just a question of one not marrying, the issue is that instead of loving a family, can you give your love to serving the Church?  That was the offering I made."

He entered the order with Mgr George Frendo, who was nominated Auxiliary Bishop in Albania last September.  "I think we influenced each other a lot and made a journey together," he says. Naturally, Mgr Cremona travelled to Albania to watch the consecration of his great friend, and was overheard passing a remark about what a nightmare being a bishop must be.  "It is a nightmare, and it was a worse nightmare when it came along," he laughs.

"There's a difference between being a politician and being a Bishop, because a politician prepares himself.  He's striving for it, he's working for it.  Up till the day before you're appointed, you don't even reflect on it.  There were some people - though it was never mentioned on the media - saying that my name was among the others.  But when people spoke to me about it, I said 'it's nothing' because I didn't want to go into the realities.  Then suddenly you're faced with this fact and have to begin to think about what it means, what it will entail.  That's why it's a nightmare."

He got a sense that his name was in the hat, "along with many others", earlier in the year, when the Apostolic Nuncio went to search for him in Rabat.  "Actually I wasn't there because I had already been posted as a parish priest to Sliema. Then we met but the only thing he said was 'what do you think about the Church today'.  That's all."

And the Nuncio was not having much better luck when he tried to get hold of Mgr Cremona on the Monday before the official announcement was made.  "I had gone and then found a message to contact him. On the morrow, the secretary phoned again and said 'the Nuncio wants to see you this evening'.  I told him I had to check whether I'm free and he said: 'even if you're not free, you have to come'."

When Mgr Cremona got to Rabat, he was told the news - that on December 2 he would be named Malta's next Archbishop.  "At that moment I asked him for 24 or 48 hours just to think about it, and he said 'if you take it as obedience to the Holy Father isn't that enough for you?'.  So that was it. I don't think I have ever said no to anything my superiors told me, even when I became parish priest.  In fact, I have never chosen anything I did in my life. I don't think it's difficult for me to acclimatise myself to people and situations, but this is a new venture."

And one, clearly, he is going to need some time to settle into.  "I have some idea of what the Church should be about, a vague idea of how I should go about things, but obviously I have to meet with a range of people from different sections of society and the Church and then I hope to clear my ideas about specific things.  Obviously, I have a general idea of the kind of Church I wish to have and about the kind of messages I wish to give to society so they can reflect upon them."

One mission he did declare during his opening press conference was to build bridges.  If he was not, as newspaper cartoonists have suggested to his amusement, talking about the stone and steel kind, who does he want to build bridges with exactly?  "Everybody," he says, "even in the fold".  It is clear that he is also talking about priests he would like to mend fences with, though he sets his stall out immediately by saying that however painful it may be, he will say no when the situation requires and that "obedience means obedience sometimes".

"But I want to be very close to them and to give them courage - they need it at the moment - because if I do that they will give more courage to the people in their care. One of the reasons we become demoralised is because we tend to compare the kind of reality we are living today with the kind of reality we had 50 or 60 years back when most Maltese accepted whatever priests said.  This is not a proper model today and the reality is different. The priestly vocation cannot ever be reactive, it has to be proactive like Christ.  He had a mission, he lived it, whatever the response.  Actually he ended up on the cross.  We have to accept that," he says, seemingly not afraid, metaphorically at least, of ending up there himself.

Certainly, the first indications are that the majority of priests have welcomed him; a factor not to be taken for granted given his Dominican roots.  Mgr Cremona is keeping his counsel for the time being on whether he will be a new Archbishop with a new team - "I have to reflect on that," he says - but he would like to surround himself with people who are frank with him.  "I want that feedback.  Obviously, it doesn't mean I will accept everything people tell me.  But I will listen to it, reflect upon it and let it enlighten me.  Then obviously I have to take a decision."

He has not yet decided where he will live, though he is adamant that it will be with a small community of diocesan priests "who will be collaborators in one way or another".  It is with them that he can discuss how to handle thorny topics that are being thrown at the Church every day: abortion, divorce and contraception, to mention but a few.  Yet, the issue, Mgr Cremona says, is not so much about discussion as what the Church teaches; for example, it can never depart from the position that human life must not be tampered with.

With regard to divorce, however, he adopts a more contemplative approach - reiterating what Pope Benedict XVI said in a recent encyclical - that it is not the role of the Church to build "a just state" but that of citizens and politicians.  "The responsibility of the Church is to put across the Christian message into this cauldron of ideas which the Church believes is necessary for society to reflect upon.  Is it inevitable or not inevitable?  I don't know.  But what the Church proposes is that if you believe in a stable family, you try and defend it."

While Mgr Cremona does not think the concept of working mothers is incompatible with this, he stresses that a couple must "make a deeper reflection than before" if they decide to have children.  "You can't say my professional life is there and then the child gets what remains - the duty should be shared between the couple.  Life is not as simple as it was before, and it would be very selfish for a man to say both of us work, but then all the work at home has to be done by the woman."

These are words that will go down well with the media, which he believes has a tendency to censor what the Church has to say.  "I would like to see then give a proper hearing to what the Church wants to propose - not impose.  Yet, some of the media try to water down what the Church says and I think that's unjust.  You can't say that now because our culture has a certain set of values; they are all the values we need.  So the Church is proposing values that society should reflect upon, even though it may say 'I don't want them'.  What I ask of people and politicians is to at least reflect upon it, without prejudice that closes their ears to what the Church has to say."

Yet, when asked whether he is happy with the use of the media made by the Church in Malta, he replies frankly:  "I wish it would talk more".  Which is good news.  If he continues to speak this sort of language, there is little doubt that more people will be prepared to listen.

Malta has new Archbishop - as reported by the Sunday Times
'I believe I can build bridges' - Mrg. Paul Cremona

On Saturday 2nd December, the Curia's main hall broke into loud applause as Fr Paul Cremona was introduced as Malta's new Archbishop, ending long months of speculation about Mgr Joseph Mercieca's successor.

Sixty-year-old Dominican Fr Cremona, who is currently parish priest of Jesus of Nazareth parish in Sliema, will succeed Archbishop Mercieca, who has steered the Maltese Church for 30 years.

"I believe I can build bridges and mend fences," the newly styled Mgr Cremona said smilingly when asked by The Sunday Times why he believes he landed the Church's top job in Malta.

The appointment by Pope Benedict XVI was announced by the Apostolic Nuncio, Mgr Felix del Blanco Prieto, during a meeting of the Archdiocese's Presbyterial Council yesterday.

Mgr Cremona is the first member of a religious order to be appointed Archbishop of Malta in 90 years since the Benedictine Dom Maurus Caruana was appointed in 1915. No date has been set for the consecration and installation of the new Archbishop, though it is widely expected to take place in January or February.

Radiating charm and charisma, Mgr Cremona admitted that he has hardly slept since he was informed of the decision last Tuesday.

"I never dreamt of this appointment. It's a huge responsibility but all I can say is that I'm prepared to give the best of Fr Cremona," he told reporters during a news conference.

He expressed his relief that his name was never bandied about in the media in the last few months, even though he was aware that he was one of the favourites to take the hot seat at the Curia.

Bound by secrecy, he admitted that he had only informed the Dominican auxiliary bishop in Albania and long-time friend, Mgr George Frendo, and the Dominican Provincial of the news, but would not even relay the news to his elderly parents.

He said he felt at ease working within the community, as evidenced by some priests who spoke with The Sunday Times and who believe he is the right man for the job.

Asked what he feared most in his new role, Mgr Cremona instantly replied: "It's my responsibility towards God. We're not managers who have to rake in the money - but apart from selling, we have to answer to God to give an account of what we've done."

Mgr Cremona showed off his diplomatic skills and skirted uncomfortable and potentially controversial questions during a half-hour news conference.

Asked whether he intended to tackle headfirst some of the Church's immediate crises, such as declining Sunday Mass attendances, he replied: "A crisis may be ingrained with fear and you could therefore paralyse it. From this moment I hope the Church won't look at it this way. A crisis may however serve as a moment of reflection..."

Instead he spoke of hope and good news, and the need for the Church to reach out to the lost sheep using its values of solidarity, justice and honesty. The media, he said, were an essential tool in today's society but often concentrated on the negative things in the world.

The Presbyterial Council unanimously approved a resolution thanking Mgr Mercieca for his 30 years of service. With his continuous work and simple ways of doing things, Mgr Mercieca radiated optimism in the clergy and the community, the Apostolic Nuncio said.

The outgoing Archbishop, Mgr Mercieca, did not give any comments to the media.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, Opposition Leader Alfred Sant and the Nationalist Party congratulated Mgr Cremona and paid tribute to Archbishop Mercieca.

Incidentally, the Office of the Prime Minister announced yesterday that Dr Gonzi is to have an official meeting with Pope Benedict at the Vatican next month.

Mgr Cremona - Profile

Born in Valletta January 25, 1946, educated at Montessori school and the Lyceum in Hamrun, joined the Dominican order in 1962.

Studied philosophy and theology at St Thomas of Aquinas Dominican convent, Rabat, and ordained in March 1969.

Obtained doctorate in moral theology from Rome in 1973, served as prior in Rabat 1974-1980, 1997-2003; served as parish priest in Guardamangia and Sliema.

Responsible for novices and Dominican students in Rabat; author of several books, including The Concept of Peace in Pope John XXIII (his doctoral thesis), L-Abort: Hajja jew Mewt? and Il-Knisja: Ikona tat-Trinità Qaddisa.


New Valletta Project - as reported in the Sunday Times

St James Ditch in Valletta. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Valletta could be completely interlinked with funicular trains, lifts and escalators, and devoid of traffic turmoil by mid-2008, as the government yesterday unveiled its Vertical Connection project.

Estimated at some Lm1.5 million, the project covers 39,000 m2 and will incorporate different parking areas, which will be linked to the heart of the city via lifts.

Most of the city centre will become pedestrianised.

During a news conference, Roads Minister Jesmond Mugliett dismissed scepticism about the feasibility of the project and said there was no reason why the tender to the private sector should not come to fruition.

The plan is to link the lower part of Valletta to the ditch and the centre of the city, making it the first vertical city connection after the Barracca lift service was stopped in 1974.

A funicular service will transport commuters from the Customs House to St James Ditch; it will be capable of carrying 1,000 commuters an hour.

A panoramic lift between St James Ditch and Castille Place will carry another 1,000 people, and an internal lift will link the former Yellow Garage area to Freedom Square.

A parking area (on payment) from Landfront Ditch to the Yellow Garage will cater for around 400 cars.

The existing ditch, passages and historical surroundings will be embellished and Lascaris Ditch will be transformed into a plaza.

To avoid any delays, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has already drawn up a brief and guidelines, and approved an outside development permit, Mr Mugliett explained.

The minister emphasised that business and trade is set to benefit from better connections as commuters may move from one side of the city to the other in no time.

Though the Park and Ride system has been deemed a success, the flow of traffic remains too much for Valletta to handle. Though there are just 3,000 parking spaces available, between 30,000 and 35,000 cars pour into Valletta every day.

Mr Mugliett said the project is being offered to the private sector since it could better exploit the commercial aspect of such a project - besides, the government lacked the necessary resources to carry it out.

However, the government will be upgrading the junction between Great Siege Road and Landfront Ditch as well as Lascaris Ditch.

Mr Mugliett said that the proposed 1998 Connections Project was discontinued as planners doubted its visibility and its negative effect on the historical element.

On the other hand, Valletta mayor Paul Borg Olivier described the Vertical Connection project as an integral part in the regeneration of Valletta and could potentially stimulate business all around.

The tender will be issued this week and the winning bidder may run the project for 15 years.