Message by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
St Paul’s Cathedral, Mdina
24th December 2017
It is with great joy that I address you on this holy night, my beloved Maltese and Gozitan brothers and sisters. On this night, the Lord invites us to move ever closer to him. His name ‘Jesus’ means that our salvation is God’s most profound wish for us, while another of the names attributed to him, Immanu-El underscores his thirst to be with us, God with us.
This year, I chose to give my Christmas message from the Cathedral of Mdina because in this place we find a beautiful Neapolitan crib. Neapolitan cribs are a unique genre in art for they place the nativity scene in the Neapolitan environment that existed 300 years ago. The rationale behind such cribs is that the Christ event did not only take place 2000 years ago, but that it is endlessly renewed in every culture and in every environment. As we move closer to Christmas, the chimes of the church bells remind us that Christmas is not only a story of times past but that it still bears a message relevant for us today.
In the Neapolitan crib we note that many figures are dressed in the costumes of the time. The central figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph remind us that this event from the past still has a timely message: that the Lord wishes to dwell in our reality as it is. He is born among us, in our hearts, with his mercy, solace, and consolation.
If one observes the gaggle of figures in the valley of the Neopolitan crib, we find that some are engrossed in work while others are making merry. Only a handful of these figures are facing Jesus in the manger. Many a time, this also happens in our culture, in our lives. Christmas comes and goes, and it would seem that Jesus did not come at all.
My wish for all of us this Christmas is that Jesus truly enters in our hearts with his consolation but also with his precious word. He invites us to forgive each other, to love each other more, and to see his presence in our brothers and sisters, especially those who need our love and care in a special way.
Two very important figures in the Neopolitan crib from the Mdina Cathedral are Saint Cajetan (San Gejtanu) and Saint George Preca (San Ġorġ Preca). Saint Cajetan had worked tirelessly to introduce Nativity cribs in Naples to mark the birth of Jesus; after all what is Christmas without the crib, without Baby Jesus? It would be an empty Christmas.
Saint Cajetan was a man of concrete holiness. When he arrived in Naples and saw that usury was plaguing the city, he establised the Banco di Napoli in order to free people who were in the clutches of usury. Before he went to Naples, Saint Cajetan lived in Venice, a city that was then riddled with highly infectious diseases. In fact, numerous young people were left to die without care. On seeing this, he establised a number of osepdali degli incurabili (hospitals for incurables), since these disease were STD (sexually transmitted diseases) and no treatment was available at the time. Today, we still need saints like Cajetan because we seem to be reliving these times once more. 500 years ago, in 1517, Saint Cajetan received a mystical experience in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. In this vision, the Holy Family invited him to welcome Jesus as his solace and consolation. This is the same wish that the Lord wants to give to us this Christmas.
The second important figure in this crib is Saint George Preca. This Christmas, Mgr Edgar Vella, who lends his Neopolitan crib to the Cathedral every year, introduced the figure of this saint. Saint George is a saint closer to us, to our time. He worked hard to spread the devotion to the Verbum Dei, to the procession of the Baby Jesus, and above all, he introduced the Word of God in our families, and among our young people.
How wonderful it is when saints teach us what it means to be a Christian, that it is something concrete, that it is not out of reach. This Christmas, the Lord is inviting you to go to confession, to go to church, to receive Holy Communion, to go to Mass. What a beautiful thing it is that while we are taken up with festivities, with parties, with visiting family and friends, we will find the time to understand that these feasts are about a person, about the Lord Jesus. May we give him the chance to console us, while we wish him a Happy Birthday.
I extend my greetings in a special way to my fellow Maltese and Gozitan brothers and sisters living outside these shores, the emigrants, their families that have now extended to the third and fourth generations. The Maltese presence in the world is a beautiful thing to behold; especially when generations, even recents ones, recall the stories about Christmas in Malta narrated by their grandparents and great grandparents. I know that many of you come to Malta and enjoy exploring and learning about your roots. Part of these beautiful roots of Malta is the Christian faith, and we all know that the celebration of our Christmas is centred on the Christ event.
My wish is that we are filled with joy at the birth of Baby Jesus. After all, the angels told the shepherds of Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest heaven …we are bringing good news of great joy”. This is my wish for you: that Christmas for us will be an experience of great joy indeed.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta