The Malta Independent 19 October 2018, Friday

Our own Tower of Ba(y)bel

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 10 October 2018, 08:29 Last update: about 8 days ago

I am sure that most of you, like myself, recall the enchanting days at the M.U.S.E.U.M. when we would be told biblical stories accompanied by the squeaky sound of the cassette player running background music and the slide show carefully prepared by the ‘Sup’, as he was affectionately called.  We listened attentively as we were talked into believing that the Bible is ‘Truth’ and what we would learn in the second floor of that derelict house, with the plastering peeling off, would serve us for life.

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Bingo, they were right!

If there is one story that still rings in my head is that narrated in Genesis 11:1-9.  Never believed the Tower of Babel (the Hebrew equivalent for Babylon) story would come in so handy after so many years had passed from the days of the M.U.S.E.U.M..   

I will reproduce the story here for ease of reference. See if it rings a bell!

The Tower of Babylon

11 At first, the people of the whole world had only one language and used the same words. As they wandered about in the East, they came to a plain in Babylonia and settled there. They said to one another, “Come on! Let's make bricks and bake them hard.” So they had bricks to build with and tar to hold them together. They said, “Now let's build a city with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and not be scattered all over the earth.”

Then the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which they had built, and he said, “Now then, these are all one people and they speak one language; this is just the beginning of what they are going to do. Soon they will be able to do anything they want! Let us go down and mix up their language so that they will not understand each other.” So the Lord scattered them all over the earth, and they stopped building the city. The city was called Babylon, because there the Lord mixed up the language of all the people, and from there he scattered them all over the earth. Good News Bible Translation (GNT) 4th Edition (1976).

Well, I get the feeling that Malta should change its name momentarily and start calling itself the Republic of Babel with so many examples of tangles we get ourselves in.

Now I will not go into the theology of it all but I will try to understand this story within our context.

It is an account that essentially represents the conceit and arrogance of a society attempting to grasp the heavens.  It is probably one of the first instances of how humans contaminated everything that we stood for.  Even though a narrative with a handful of potential historical roots it shows that certain individuals wanted to become more than God.  Not that I will be the one to point fingers but it is this haughtiness, this sense of righteousness, this moral high ground that will bring our downfall – or has our ignominy already started? 

The story speaks volumes about the ‘chastisement’ of God towards the publics. He made everyone talk in different languages and hence His plan to pickle their attempt to reach the blues. 

Now back to the local.

The outlandish situation is that I have to locate this story on a Religious Order that has so many Friars I am so chummy with.  Needless to mention, the fantastic work that Fr Hilary has done over the years is second to none.  The same can be said about Fr Ray Francalanza, one of the most grounded priests ever. It is worth mentioning his pastoral care and his sterling work when he led St Augustine’s College, to mention just some examples. 

But regrettably I need to focus on the recent controversy related to the twelve storey building that the Augustinians will allegedly rent out to Bay Street Holdings. The Ba(y)bel debacle is sad to say the least and dejected at its worst.  When it comes to environmental issues this country is already in a total and utter muddle.  When it’s the Institution that claims to be the moral compass that gets itself in the knot, I’m not sure we can dig ourselves a deeper hole. 

The Curia is not clocking any brownie points from where I stand. 

Even though the Curia condemned such a project proposed by the Augustinians it seems to be speaking in an alien tongue that the Augustinians don’t seem to be understanding.  What the Church Environment Commission is saying on the St Rita Priory Site Project doesn’t seem to be coming through.

The Commission is essentially calling for the Friars to re-think the whole concept, to move away from its original plans, to avoid constructing a tower that symbolises bedlam and disorder, traffic and overcrowding with no real community development or enhancement to vouch for.

The real regeneration of a site requires a public consultation with the communities that live close to the site. But such consultation has to take place at the initial stages of the concept and design of a project, and not at the end of it when plans are submitted to the Planning Authority and the public consultation is a legal obligation which is largely ineffective in changing the whole concept of a project.... The KA is of the opinion that the proposed project is one that fits in the ‘more-of-the-same’ category of projects. The concept and design process of the project as well as its future use should have been one that is a beacon of hope in Maltese society which is fast idolising the property market without any other consideration and where the planning system is being eroded by the authorities in order to facilitate unsustainable development practices.

(Reaction to amended plans of St Rita Priory Project - PA10598/17

 REPORT BY THE CHURCH ENVIRONMENT COMMISSION)

The Augustinians’ simply reiterate by stating that they were not consulted by the CEC and unfairly analysed and only given the report as a fait accompli, at the same time that it was presented to the media.

Mind you this issue with the Towers developing left, right and centre did not start today or with the Augustinian Order.  Drily, we had been supplicating the politicians to start building high up due to the limited space we have.  But not only that, as always seems to happen in this country, we have really gone delirious.

The 12 story Tower that the Augustinian Friars have decided to erect in the area at the centre of Paceville symbolises a Church that has gone loopy.  During my radio show on Ghandi xi Nghid on Radju Malta last Saturday, the Provincial, Fr Leslie was forthcoming enough to speak about this matter.  He said that he would like us to understand the project holistically because the Convent (which currently doesn’t host a community) and the Chapel will be restored and used for pastoral care.  I find this neat. 

What I cannot understand is how a 12 storey Tower that will be leased to a private company be part of an all-inclusive project that takes in cognisance ‘pastoral needs’?  Maybe because the Tower will host people who cannot afford high-end rent prices, or perhaps pack in homeless people in Floor 12 to have a sea view or possibly offer a soup kitchen for the homeless? 

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Can’t the Church and its Religious Orders understand that this is not just about doing the ‘legal’ thing but about maintaining decorum, propriety and sedateness? 

The Church has to lead by example.

The Babel of it all is that 400/500 meters away from this lurid project we have another Augustinian, Fr Hillary who worked tirelessly with other Friars even at his age to make an environment of peace and tranquillity at the Millennium Chapel.  It really seems odd that this Order has gone zany. 

I know it would take a lot of ‘valour’, but I am sure there is enough of it within the Augustinian order to halt this monstrosity and humbly go back to the drawing board.

‘Fr Leslie and co, do the right thing and stop the project!’  Get down from the Babel you have created for yourselves.  Heed the voice of the people who look up to you, the community that has hosted you and esteem the land that is not ‘yours’ but for the service of the people (assuming you are anywhere close to believing in rectitude). 

Allow me to quote the Saint the Frairs revere so much, St Augustine of Hippo;

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for a [non-believer] to hear a Christian talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.’

(St Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Trans. John Hammond Taylor, S.J. in Ancient Christian Writers: the Works of the Fathers in Translation, ed. Johannes Quasten et al., vols. 41-42, 1.42-43. New York: Newman, 1982. )

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