The Malta Independent 11 July 2020, Saturday

TMID Editorial: The Archbishop’s blessing - More than just a symbolic gesture

Wednesday, 6 November 2019, 10:25 Last update: about 9 months ago

The battle between the Church and the Labour Party in the late 1950s and early 1960s is a wound that still openly hurts Labour exponents. The story has been told from generation to generation, with the children and grandchildren of those who personally experienced those times feeling almost as much pain as their elders, even though more than half a century has passed. Other Labour supporters, whose families may not have been directly touched by the Church's position at the time, still harbour a kind of hostility because of what had taken place.


Being buried in non-consecrated land in a different part of the cemetery and being forced to get married in sacristies were two decisions taken by the Archbishop of the time, Mgr Mikiel Gonzi, as part of what is popularly known as "l-interdett" (interdiction), employed against Labour officials and activists at the height of the confrontation.

The interdiction was eventually lifted in 1964 when Malta obtained its independence, but decades down the line it remained a barrier between the Church and the old Labour guard and their families. Many of them have never forgiven the Church that their relatives were humiliated by being buried in what was known as the "mizbla" (landfill). Many also believe that the Labour Party's battle with the Church in the 1980s over its schools was a kind of retribution for what had happened 20 years before.

Things could now change. Hopefully, they will.

Last Saturday, All Souls Day, Archbishop Charles Scicluna laid flowers and blessed the grave of Guze Ellul Mercer, who had been interdicted and buried in the non-consecrated part of the Addolorata Cemetery. Ellul Mercer had occupied the post of Labour deputy leader and had also served as a minister in a Labour government.

By doing so, Archbishop Scicluna brought down the wall that existed between "those who died in peace with the Church and others". He gave further significance to the event by saying that he was asking for a "pardon for the walls that were built to separate the dead".

Mgr Scicluna's act of humility, coupled with his apology for the action of his predecessor, was welcomed with praise, including that of many Labour exponents who find it hard to see eye-to-eye with the Church on most matters. His action was seen as an attempt to bridge the gap that has been festering between the two institutions for a very long time.

Both Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Opposition Leader Adrian Delia publicly expressed their appreciation for the archbishop's "courageous" gesture, as it was seen as a sign of unity, which it must be said have become rare in the day and age we live in.

The PM went one step further by calling on the head of the Church in Malta to be strong with people who spread hatred. Well, just as much as Mgr Scicluna should take action against members of the clergy who, in recent weeks, were seen to be inciting hatred in their public appearances, the Prime Minister would do well to take action against Labour exponents, and also people who have been appointed by his government to important public positions, to also hold back from fomenting this same hatred in their posts, on the social media. The same would also apply for the Opposition Leader, as there are also PN exponents who use social media for their vitriolic attacks.

Every leader, in whatever capacity, must lead by example.




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