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Tue, June 5, 2007
First Mass in Maltese at St Peter's Basilica - as reported by the Times...

Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

A new chapter in local Church history was written for the second time in two days yesterday, when Mgr Paul Cremona became the first Maltese bishop to conduct a Mass, in his native tongue, on the main altar of St Peter's Basilica in Rome.

But if any of the Maltese pilgrims present - practically all the seats were full - were carrying an umbrella yesterday, it was to fend off the punishing sunlight rather than the beating rain.

People could not help wondering, as they once again walked through St Peter's Square, under an empty sky before entering the magnificent basilica, what might have been last Sunday, when Pope Benedict XVI canonised Dun Gorg Preca in conditions that were more akin to Britain in winter than Rome on the eve of summer.

But in his homily, Mgr Cremona said: "Yesterday, we lived a moment of beautiful celebration where we witnessed St Gorg Preca in heaven. Though it rained, it didn't dampen our spirit. Our mission is to go back and express the joy we experienced here."

As he addressed the crowd at the end of the Mass, the postulator for the cause of Malta's first canonised saint, Mgr Charles Scicluna, urged the groups present to each bring more people with them to the Granaries in Floriana for the home celebration on Thursday and recounted his exchange with the Pope the preceding day:

"I said this is a renewal of our baptism after St Paul, but I would have preferred the grace without the water."

Mgr Scicluna later told The Times: "I was a bit disappointed with the rain but reflected that... when St Paul arrived in Malta he was drenched. And he baptised us, he baptised our roots. This is a renewal of that.

"It was an extraordinary day yesterday and today was also extraordinary... It's a message to us, at the beginning of the third millennium, to reach out and find our roots."

He is not disappointed that his work as a postulator is over, since the job by nature is to bring about that end. In fact, he said this is a new beginning as it was now important to make St Gorg and his writings known to the world.

"That's something that has to begin," he said.

Gozo Bishop Mario Grech said it was important people came away from this experience with the same desire Dun Gorg had to live the gospel.

"These celebrations can be quickly forgotten, so we must use them to increase our sense of duty to evangelise also in our country.

"I hope I'm mistaken, but I'm under the impression that we still don't know what Christ taught us."

Mgr Grech said that during Sunday's ceremony three feelings stood out for him more than anything else because Dun Gorg encapsulated them: Being Maltese, being a member of the Church and being a priest. "I felt that these are the points I should place more emphasis on and work harder to achieve."

Yesterday's thanksgiving ceremony, which saw the first rendition of a hymn composed by the MUSEUM, Salve Sante Giorgi, was also a special celebration for the Grima family of Hamrun.

Sitting towards the front, dressed in their Sunday best, Christine and Peter held a protective arm over their children Mariam, 7, and Andrew, 6, guiding their attention towards the Mass.

Wearing their first Holy Communion outfits, Mariam and Andrew, who have been adopted from Pakistan, were chosen to present the offerings and receive the Eucharist from Mgr Cremona.

Holding their hands in prayer as they walked up the altar, their young faces were overcome with a solemn expression as they concentrated on the important task of getting the offerings to the Archbishop intact.

On returning to their parents, they were back to being children, posing and smiling, as their father let the camera roll to record this memorable moment.

"We're very grateful. We feel we don't deserve this. The real artist in all this is Jesus; we are merely spectators of His word," Mrs Grima said.

The ceremony was also momentous for Lawrence Spiteri, the personal doctor of Dun Gorg, who upon sensing the priest's holiness had retained a phial of his blood.

The 85-year-old was visibly moved by the ceremony; his eyes gleamed and he spoke in a trembling voice full of emotion: "I kept the blood of Dun Gorg because I always knew he was a saint".

"But I never dreamt I would one day assist to his canonisation. I'm delighted to be here. This is the happiest day in my life," he enthused.

Mgr Cremona also spoke of the "great honour" of sharing an altar with the Pope during the canonisation.

"I think this was the great moment we expected. It was an emotional moment when Dun Gorg was proclaimed a saint of the universal Church. It was at that moment that we could feel, thank God, we had arrived after hoping for so long."

"We have to continue to promote what he (St Gorg) has said... What he has taught needs to be more widespread in Malta so that we change our lives a little.

"If we switch from thinking about what we do not have, to thinking of what we do have, then life will change."

Malta's official delegation, led by President Eddie Fenech Adami, was also present for the ceremony - and visited the crypt of John Paul II just before it got under way.

Steve Mallia, Ariadne Massa in Rome