On the feast of the birth of the Blessed Virgin, the Maltese people recall the triumphs of our nation, so much so that we refer to this feast as the Feast of Victories. On this day, we commemorate the victory over the Ottoman Empire in 1565, the liberation of Malta from French rule in 1800, and the termination of the Second World War for Malta, when Italy surrendered on 8 September 1943. More than simply a triumph for the Maltese people, every one of these victories signified a great step forward in the development of civilization for the whole of Europe.
Our tiny nation faced great challenges in order to defend itself, and because we are a believing community, we feel that through God’s help we have been delivered from these difficulties. We are a people who have always had a great devotion to our Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. We believe that she was the one who interceded for us before God in these difficult moments. Therefore, on this occasion, which is held in high esteem by the people of Malta and Gozo, we thank God who, through the intercession of our Mother Mary, stood by us and led this nation to victory, for the benefit of all Europe.
I am sure we all agree that when a nation’s security is threatened, in order to be able to defend itself, the people need to be united. It is only as a result of the total unity of the people that victory over the enemy is achieved. With great satisfaction, I state that in moments of peril, our people were always united. I believe it was our faith which enhanced our unity, to the extent that it served to strengthen us. Yet, it would be a pity if our people were united only when faced with a common enemy. The unity of the people is the bedrock of a nation and for this reason, every one is dutybound to fortify and sustain this unity at all times. At this present moment, the Mediterranean basin is experiencing many blood-stained conflicts. This should serve as an eye-opener for us. Together with Pope Francis, as we continue to appeal for ceasefire, we should set great store for the value of peace and national unity. Today, I pray to God, through the intercession of Our Lady, Mother of Victories, that our neighbouring countries may once again enjoy peace and that their people can benefit from the fruits of their unity.
In spite of the fact that, throughout its history, our nation has faced some moments of uprising and internal conflicts, we can safely state that by the grace of God, we have overcome them. Through these circumstances, we have learnt to appreciate the value of unity as a means of safeguarding our people. Yet there is still room for me to appeal for national unity to be built upon the principles of justice, solidarity and subsidiarity. These are three principles in which Catholic Social Teaching is rooted.
1. Justice demands that each and every person receives his due as a human person and as a citizen, irrespective of colour, race, gender, religious beliefs or political affiliation. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read:
Social justice can be obtained only in respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him. Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature…. The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1929, 1930, 1935).
Therefore, any form of privilege which may be granted, without any valid reason, to the advantage of some people, goes against the principles of social justice and only serves to divide people. No person should expect to be favoured over another because he or she is of a particular gender, or a certain race, or because of his or her religious beliefs, or even because of affiliation with a political party and not another (see Gaudium st Spes n. 103). As a nation we should appreciate that our differences do not serve as a rift; neither do they place us on opposite sides. Rather, society becomes richer and more beautiful in its differences. Therefore, through our distinguishing features, we should value each other’s merits and help one another. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:
These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1937).
2. The meaning of solidarity lies in our acknowledgement of the fact that we appertain to one nation, a nation that always seeks the common good for the benefit of all, from the highest to the lowest person with regards to age, as well as social status. Therefore, we are to work together for our mutual benefit. We cannot allow people to lag behind. In his Apostolic Exhortation ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, Pope Francis states that:
Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them. These convictions and habits of solidarity, when they are put into practice, open the way to other structural transformations and make them possible (Evangelii Gaudium, n.189-190).
In a world which is progressing at a fast pace, it is easy for some people not to catch up with the development and as a result, fall behind. I wish to call to mind our commitment to fight poverty in our country. Today, we are all aware that around 15 percent of our population is at poverty-risk level. This means that there are many individuals, as well as entire families, who are suffering. At times, they are unable to purchase even their most basic needs to live a dignified life according to the national standard of living in our country. This percentage of people who are at the risk of poverty needs to be decreased. I also wish to point out that the number of people who are illiterate is also of grave concern. I appreciate that several efforts are being made for these difficulties to be alleviated. The Church has always held such efforts close to her heart and she continues to commit herself to them. May I also highlight the efforts in our country to assist the poor in the world, particularly through Maltese missionaries. Our missionary brothers and sisters are scattered throughout the whole world and they turn to us so that they may assist the poor in those countries where they undertake their pastoral ministry. Thank God, we have always served them generously.
3. We may also apply the principle of subsidiarity to the same scenario of a fast-developing world. Subsidiarity means that every form of development, including economic advances, cannot be achieved by those who are strong and powerful, to the detriment of those who are small, and as a result, vulnerable.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this principle in the light of Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical, Centisimus Annus, which states that:
A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good…. The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 1883, 1885).
In a country as small as ours, it is possible that our economy can grow in such a way that is not profitable for the holistic development of the country. If small and medium-sized enterprises are stifled by the so-called giants of economic development, this could be to the detriment of our country’s economy in the future. For this reason, I feel that we should encourage and strengthen small and medium-sized enterprises in our country.
The economic advancement of Transnational corporations can also leave a negative effect, both on the economy and the development of our country, as well as on the international economy and the holistic development of other nations, both those who like us, are small, and also greater. It is either development for all or not development at all. Development is not real development if it is not for everyone’s benefit. One cannot seek one’s own good without also taking into consideration the good of the other.
Throughout the course of our history, our people have successfully overcome several difficulties and still, we have remained united. If we continue to build our unity on these principles, we will be a united nation, able to defend itself against any impending threats to always safeguard the common good. I augur that, in spite of the fact that we are a small nation, we will be in a better position to assist other nations. In such a way, our National Unity and the benefits which emanate from this will also extend to other people who live beyond our shores and who are in need.
✠ Paul Cremona O.P.
Archbishop of Malta