Message by Archbishop Charles Jude Scicluna
This year I wished to deliver my message for this holy, Christmas season from a church that is small but very dear to us Maltese and Gozitans. This is the church we refer to as the Greek Church which is in Archbishop’s Street, Valletta, and which is not far, actually just a few paces away, from the Grandmaster’s Palace, the official seat of the President of the Republic.
In this church, which is entrusted to the Greek Catholic Community in Malta, we have a very precious icon which has been among us since 1530, almost 500 years, and which was brought over by a family who came together with the Knights from the Greek island of Rhodes. This icon is known as Our Lady of Damascus, or ‘Id‑Damaxxena’, and it was written around 900 years ago. I wish that everyone passing through Valletta and finding this church open, would enter and pray before this lovely depiction of the mother with her child, Jesus, hugging his mother. The child Jesus’ embrace with his mother, Mary, in this icon of Our Lady of Damascus, fascinates me greatly. It is as though Jesus does not simply want to hug his mother but to hold her close so that she will never leave him. It is a hug that shows how dear she is to him, a hug full of tenderness.
When Pope Francis was among us, he spoke to us, not just in words but also by his gestures, of the values of the Gospel, those of mercy, of tenderness, of loving care and also of closeness. This beautiful icon of Our Lady of Damascus expresses these values of the Gospel. The Madonna, with her large eyes gazing at and inviting us to not feel uncomfortable when drawing near to her Son. However, her Son is holding his mother close, like every baby that seeks to receive loving care, safety and comfort from his mother.
How good it is for us to show the same sweetness towards each other even when we disagree. Let us remember that our mother who gave us our identity, is a land of sweetness, a sweet land.
During the Christmas period, I wish each and every one of us the lovely experience of drawing near to the Lord who draws us close to him with bonds of love and mercy: “Out of great love, I had mercy on you”. This beautiful word that the prophet Isaiah gives us also expresses the great mystery that we are celebrating beyond the glitter, the lights, the decorations, the parties. On this holy night, this holy day, let us remember the love in the merciful hug of God and treat each other in a way that shows we truly value each other.
This year, I also wish to commemorate during my short message a centenary that is dear and important to us Maltese and Gozitans. It was the 27th December 1922, exactly 100 years ago, that the Maltese National Anthem was performed for the first time at the Manoel Theatre, with music composed by Robert Samut and also the carefully chosen and dear words of this prayer bequeathd to us by the national poet, Dun Karm,
I wish to pray over our country, so that the Lord will continue to gaze upon us with a look of mercy, that we may remember the sweetness of Malta. After all, these words, ‘protection’ and ‘sweetness’, remind us of the origin, of the meaning of the word, ‘Malta’. ‘Malta’ is derived from ‘honey’ and the ‘sweetness of honey’. How good it is for us to show the same sweetness towards each other even when we disagree. Let us remember that our mother who gave us our identity, is a land of sweetness, a sweet land.
Let us pray to the Lord to remember to always protect Malta, that is, not to just look upon us with a look of mercy, but to protect us. We were always a refuge. Another word that explains ‘Malta’ is a ‘place of safety’, a place that offers protection, as the mother’s womb also needs to be; a place that protects. Let us pray to the Lord to remind us that he not only adorned us, our Malta, with sweet light, with the greatest light of his word and of the Gospel through our Father, the apostle St Paul, but also to give the Maltese wisdom, strength, mercy, and above all the gift of unity.
As I join you in commemorating the first centenary of the Maltese national anthem, I also join our people in order to ask God for every blessing upon our country. And I also wish you a year full of love, of mercy, of closeness to one another, beneath the gaze of the mother of Jesus, the mother of love, tenderness, the mother of mercy.
I wish to extend special greetings to the Maltese and Gozitans who are residents or emigrants away from our shores. My greeting is not just from one of your brothers, but from a Maltese person like you who cannot forget our roots.
While commemorating the first centenary of the Maltese National Anthem, let us remember this sweet land that gave us our identity. Let us also remember that light that the Lord bathes it in, and ensure that our reputation as Maltese and Gozitans will always bring it honour and be a beautiful presence in the world. Despite our country’s small size, we are still called to be a protective and sweet presence in the human family.
I sincerely wish you a peaceful Christmas and a year filled with blessings and good fortune.
✠ Charles Jude Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta