Message by Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna
After the extraordinary greeting by Mgr Scerri I am lost for words. I will not repeat what I said yesterday, but I would like to take the cue from the beautiful painting that is the background to our meeting today.
As you know, and as we always remember every year, today it is the feast of the conversion of St Paul – his meeting Jesus Christ on the way to Damascus and his baptism in Damascus. This is a painting of the farewell. It is not the painting of the shipwreck; it is a painting of Paul leaving the islands after three months. There is a fire and the fire still has a viper in it. This fire reminds us of the beautiful theme of the song composed by Joe Aquilina, ‘Kindle a Fire’.
To kindle a fire is actually to bring the Gospel to humanity with its light and its warmth.
Fire is a beautiful image of the Gospel. According to John, Jesus came to baptize in spirit and fire. Jesus himself says: “There is a fire and how I long that it is actually enkindled” (Lk 12:49). So to kindle a fire is actually to bring the Gospel to humanity with its light and its warmth. And if there is something that we can bring with us and take with us from this week of Christian unity, it is this exhortation. So listening to Jesus Christ who wants to be immersed in the fire of his love, “I have come to bring fire”, ignem veni mittere, “I have come to bring fire to the world”. And we need to kindle that fire. We need to keep the flame going. That should be our witness, each and every one of us according to his heritage and Christian tradition. If we kindle the fire of Jesus Christ, he will do the rest.
Of course, to kindle a fire you need to feed it and we need to feed this fire by our kindness, by showing each other this humanitas, this filantropia. And I would like to imagine that at the shipwreck, the Maltese showed a pre-Christian filantropia but – after three months and after the experience of the healing power of the name of Jesus Christ and of his spirit – my conviction is that this filantropia, you know putting everything they needed on the ship that is what Luke says. He actually uses the word honour: “They honoured us” (Acts 28:10), they took care of us, with great gratitude. Imagine every family that had this great experience of healing through the name of Jesus, bringing something onto the ship that brought the group to Syracuse. And this is now a filantropia that has seen the power of Jesus. And I am sure it had a different taste as should our filantropia, our humanitas.
If we kindle the fire of Jesus Christ, he will do the rest.
As to whether the Melita of the Book of Acts is our island or not, I always tell our friends that you do not go to Syracuse from Dalmatia, you go to Syracuse from Malta. So if you want to know whether it was Malta in the Mediterranean here, you read how the journey goes on. It is Malta-Syracuse to the north, and then Regium, so it is not from Dalmatia because they would have gone to Brindisium. That is how I persuaded Cardinal Ratzinger that it was our Melita and not the one in Dalmatia, with all due respect.
The journey continues as our call to use and show this non modica humanitas, this unusual kindness (Acts 28:2) to people who come to our islands looking for dignity. If we are truly Christians, we need to treat each other and every human being with dignity, respect, and love.
So thank you very much to all those who prepared the text and did such a wonderful job, but thank you also for your extraordinary presence yesterday. Thank you again Bishop Innes for your hospitality and Canon Simon as well for greeting us, but thank you to all of you for coming here today for being together. I think this is a strong witness. We need to keep this fire alive, we need to kindle the fire of Jesus’ love. Thank you very much.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta