The Malta Independent 25 September 2018, Tuesday

Cross in classrooms, a symbol of identity

David Stellini Thursday, 8 March 2018, 08:27 Last update: about 8 months ago

That the Gozo Bishop says that it is not fundamentally important for him whether the cross should be displayed in a classroom or not, is highly understandable because the Bishop is after all a spiritual leader. The cross in public buildings, like schools and hospitals, is not essentially there to draw people to Jesus. It is displayed there because Malta is a catholic state as enshrined in the constitution. The cross in public buildings is more than anything else a symbol of our catholic identity. 

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Just a few months ago I was driving by my primary school with my family and told my children that this was my school. My 4 year old daughter was tied down by the seat belt and couldn’t see much as we drove past. Unexpectedly, she put up a tantrum and among the screeching and whining and shouting we returned, pulled by and went down to show her ‘my first school’. Lately, every time we pass by, I slow down a bit, she pulls herself up, looks and says ‘this is daddy’s school’ beaming with pride. 

But it isn’t pride-for-daddy, is it, that draws her so much to this school. It is the innate need to get to know more about her origins. It is the same need that draws kids to their grannies, particularly for story telling and anecdotes. It is the same need drawing us to read biographies, read history books, visit museums and watch documentaries about historical events. It is the same urgent need to know our origins, to know where we stand in the galaxy of things, especially since the globalised world is occasionally unforgiving.

As Malta welcomes more foreigners than ever before, arguably, our place in Maltese society can become blurrier and blurrier. Hearing people speak so many languages in Valletta is exciting and enticing, something that for me at least, is very welcoming. I’m the cosmopolitan type. I love living in big massive cities. However it can be disorientated for some especially if one does not have a strong sense of identity and belonging. 

For this reason, it would be a mistake if we as a nation forget our origins, detach from our roots, because this would leave us without an identity, which basically means without a character. We, as a nation, do have a very strong character and we know what distinguishes us from other peoples. Most foreigners love us for that. It is very simple really. You love and accept yourself as you are and others love you and respect you as you are. That’s basic psychology. 

A few years ago, the Belgians decided to follow the French secular model, and remove all crosses from public buildings. It wasn’t long since they also decided to start calling ‘Christmas holidays’ ‘winter holidays’, ‘Easter Holidays’ ‘spring holidays’. The Christmas market (Marché de Noël) was quickly changed to winter fun (Plaisirs d’Hiver), translated loosely.

Some Belgians now want to remove any references to religion on Saint Nicholas. We do not celebrate this feast but it is very popular, especially with children in Belgium and neighbouring countries. Saint Nicholas was a bishop and some people want to remove the cross from his costume. It is the kind of thing that is riling many other Belgians, even those who are not practicing Christians. It is a case of political correctness gone mad. Will Malta go down this route? I should hope not. 

Seven years ago, on 18 March 2011 the European human rights court, in the case Lautsi v. Italy, ruled that the Italian State can continue displaying crucifixes in sate school classrooms as it does not breach the European Convention on Human Rights. This European court seems to recognise that religion and politics should be separated but that this separation can never be total.

Indeed our Constitution strikes the right balance because, although, it states clearly that Malta is a catholic nation, it also states that it must respect all other religious denominations on the island. 

I find it hard to accept the removal of this clause from our constitution. It would be, to my mind, a massive mistake.  It would show more than anything else lack of self confidence or self respect. Our country should do whatever it takes to integrate foreigners in our midst but we can never deny our roots or worse refuse to accept our identity.

The loss of identity brings with it hatred towards people of other religious denominations. When we accept our identity, we automatically accept the identity of others. That is basic human psychology.

MP David Stellini is the Opposition spokesperson on European Affairs and Brexit. He is also President of the Nationalist Party Administrative Council.

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