“The choice of a national day is a political decision which ought to be historically-based. It is hardly the archbishop’s business to pontificate about it,” said historian Henry Frendo when contacted by The Malta Independent.
Prof. Frendo was commenting on the Archbishop’s homily to churchgoers including Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat, during the Independence Day Pontifical Mass at St John’s Co-Cathedral.
Archbishop Paul Cremona, OP, said that our national days are of “equal importance” and it is justifiable wholeheartedly to celebrate the days which unite the whole country. Referring to Independence Day, Victory Day, Republic Day and Freedom Day among others, Mgr Cremona said that all these dates are of equal importance.
“It strikes me as odd that the Archbishop opted to comment like this on the matter,” said Prof. Frendo while questioning Mgr Cremona’s expertise on the subject, other than as a pastoral wish for unity. There has been some considerable historiography on the subject among the few researchers who have published substantively on this period aided by archival material.
On the other hand, historian Dominic Fenech thought it was rather “strange” for the Archbishop to go into the matter, although he did not see this as some sort of political interference.
Prof. Frendo said that on the previous day Dr Gonzi had said that Independence Day should be made the national day whereas Dr Muscat had called for one national day, on which the Leader of the Opposition should join the President and the Prime Minister in laying wreaths.
We may have been moving towards a possible decision, then the Archbishop enters the fray simply putting all these historic days in the same basket, Prof. Frendo said. Was this because there was a preference for a religiously-linked national day perhaps, which in that case could be Victory Day, celebrated on 8 September?
Prof. Frendo said that the Otto Settembre was a popular pre-Independence feast and had its merits, for instance emigrants who had left Malta in the 1950s and early 1960s identify with it, and there were some historical reasons as well. But it was not so much a secular home-grown occasion, recalling ‘victories’ when the Maltese were under foreign occupation, and it could be an escapist fall-back position if politicians continued to disagree following the confusion created between 1971 and 1979 when the national day was changed again and again.
In his comments on the matter, Prof. Fenech said that the Catholic world was supposedly moving towards ecumenism, reducing religious conflict and promoting unity rather than emphasising difference. The Great Siege was a battle between the western world, and therefore Catholicism, as opposed to the eastern world which is mainly Muslim. Thus, 8 September was inscribed in Malta’s history mainly because we used to celebrate the birth of Our Lady on the day.
“This feast kept us anchored in the Roman Catholic religion,” Prof. Fenech said.
Meanwhile, he did not think the Archbishop wanted to have a finger in the pie and thought that he was supporting the status quo. This could be a realistic approach since the two main political parties are still far from reaching a decision or consensus on the matter.
While the Prime Minister has named Independence as the national Day, the Labour Party surely did not agree, according to Prof. Fenech. The PL may give up Freedom Day for a day void of political discourse, such as Republic Day, he said, but it will surely not want Independence Day as the national day. In fact, Dr Muscat said his party preferred to have one national day but failed to comment further.
Nonetheless, Prof. Fenech believed that the national day subject is not a question of expertise but a matter of politicians having to reflect the people’s opinion and what unites them. This was more the case since historians did not agree on which feast to name as the national day.