On Tuesday 8th of September 2015, Archbishop Charles J. Scicluna celebrated a Solemn Mass at St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta. This celebration was held on the occasion of the feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary and the victory of the Great Siege. After Mass, the Archbishop, the Grand Master of the Order, H.E. the Ven. Baliff Fra Ludwig Hoffmann von Rummerstein, together with the Sovereign Council of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John, visited the Grandmasters’ Crypt to pray in front of the tomb of the Grandmaster Jean de la Vallette.
The Archbishop’s Homily
St John’s Co-Cathedral, Valletta
8th September 2015“From you will be born the one who is to rule over Israel” (Mic 5, 2). The reading from the prophet Micah today starts with a note about a tiny clan, a small clan called to be great.
When I read this prophecy I always think about Malta, though not in its autobiographical way. I think about Malta being little but being called to greatness. This is also the paradigm of the history of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta; humble beginnings in the Holy Land, but called to greatness because the mission to which you are called is truly great, and as you know, it is beautifully expressed in the two Latin phrases: tuitio fidei, obsequium pauperum. This is what our history of these islands witness, from 1530 to 1798 and from then onwards. A strange, almost esoteric twinning of these two columns: the defence of the faith and the veneration. The obsequium is a very, very strong word in Latin; it is not only helping the poor but venerating the poor: obsequium pauperum.
Yesterday we were invited to a lunch in the Sacra Infermeria. It is good to be refreshed and nourished in the place where the Knights of Malta took care of so many sick people when they built Valletta. As you know, that was one of the duties of every knight, to dedicate a day of service at the Sacra Infermeria.
In our prayers during Mass for the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the Church rejoices at the beginning of our faith: fidei exordium, the dawn of our faith. But the prayer also asks God for the gift of peace. Today we would like to look at our Lady, especially under the title of Our Lady of Philermos, asking her intercession for peace among nations, especially in the Mediterranean. The icon was born on the shores of the Mediterranean, it was revered on the Philermos Hill very close to Rhodes, very close to the city. It is now cherished and treasured, let us hope, in Montenegro, but it was here for hundreds of years. Our Lady of Philermos has done its own tour of the Mediterranean.
We remember Our Lady under this title, as we want not only to witness to the glories of the past and the tragedies of years foregone, but we want to continue in the best traditions of the Order and of humanity. Where a hospital sponsored by the Order is inaugurated in parts of the world were health services are not the best, it is a sign that we still believe in the presence of Jesus in every man and woman we meet. The veneration of our brothers and sisters who are poor has this root in in faith, the words of Jesus: “whatever good you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto me”. And that is why we venerate the poor, not out of a superior compassion, but moved by a deep faith that goes beyond the persona, the mask of the human being and goes to the hearts of our human dignity that we have been created and we are in the image of God.
Reflecting on what this means today, I would like to invite the Order, in the presence of the Sovereign Council, to be part of that witness that we Christians treat questions of the life and the dignity of the human being with a great sense of responsibility. Among the poor today that need our obsequium, there are embryos and the unborn. And in every place where the services of charity, the health services of the Order arrive, let us strive to create a culture of life and never a culture of death.
When it comes to in tuitio fidei, we are here to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the Great Siege. This great conventual Church was not here 450 years ago. This land, Mount Sciberras, was taken up by the enemy and used to bombard St Angelo, St Michael and St Elmo. It is an extraordinary transformation. It is a great grace that we are here on Mount Sciberras, in a church. If the outcome had to be different, this conventual church would never have been.
We also are very, very proud of the fact that this great aula is flanked by chapels dedicated to the langes of the Order which are an anticipation of the European Union. But if the European Union had to learn something from the Order, it could learn that there is glory and great profit in the obsequium pauperum especially where the pauperes, where the poor, are migrants knocking on our doors; and that there is great profit in tuitio fidei. Europe is sometimes ashamed of its religious roots. It should not be ashamed, it should be proud of its roots, as St John Paul II rightly said.
And so the Order has a message for Europe. It has always embodied the best Europe could offer, and there are values and principles that the Order embodies and incarnates that are still very, very important, and absolutely, urgently necessary for a beautiful Europe. Not the ugly Europe with closed doors and agnosticism, cynicism when it comes to religion. At times we are told that in Europe religion is simply a sub culture. You can’t relegate our patrimony: religious, cultural, historical and spiritual, simply to a sub-culture. This does not mean that we want to create ghettos or we want to continue talking about religious strife. We are here today, 450 years after the Great Siege victory, to thank God for his mercies through the intercession of Our Lady, but also to renew our commitment to a culture of dialogue, of responsibility, of reciprocity in rights, a culture of dialogue and reconciliation.
There are lots of memories we need to heal, but before healing them we need to remember and so as we remember, we ask the Holy Spirit to heal our wounds, to purify our memories, and as we thank God for people who came, saw and went back empty-handed, we also ask that our hands are outstretched to help the poor that the Lord is placing before us as proximi today: the unborn, the migrants, people in our families who are distressed and in solitude or slaves to dependence of any sort. These are the poor of today. Let us also venerate the image of God in them and ask for the strength to be of service.
✝ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta
Photos: Photocity, Valletta.