The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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St George’s Basilica under siege!

Sunday, 3 December 2023, 07:49 Last update: about 4 months ago

Emmanuel J. Galea

Ir-Rabat (Victoria) Gozo’s capital boasts of a legacy of several distinct squares. St George’s Parish - Gozo’s Golden Basilica dominates such an exquisite square (pjazza), within walking distance from the central Independence Square, It-Tokk

Here, wonder of wonders, the inviting mood of this pjazza is a magnet for locals and tourists where they unwind, socialise, feast, and dine. It becomes more crowded and has a unique and magical atmosphere later in the evening.

Decades ago, pjazza San Gorg comprised private residences and small outlets varying from souvenirs, clothes, confectionary, grocery, tobacco, and drinks.

Most of these residences are gone now. This pjazza has changed. Now it is jam-packed with umbrellas, tables, chairs, signs of restaurants, bistros, snack bars and a Boutique Hotel.

So far, so good! St George’s Basilica embraces this pjazza in its shadow. This majestic church serves as a backdrop, and witnesses all the activity generated in this pjazza

The outlets prefer the fine weather for more seating arrangements or else they have to adapt to limited availability under the canopies. But are these seating arrangements in the pjazza in harmony with the original plan issued by the Lands Authority?

Parishioners are concerned about access to the church’s related functions. The Basilica is a bustling centre of religious activity and a cherished Georgian gem in Victoria. The church’s administration holds masses and religious gatherings, especially during the weekend.

The basilica is now more difficult for vehicles to access for special functions, services, or emergencies. It feels an inconvenience and time-consuming exercise to reach the pjazza or church, especially during an emergency. Outlets nearby are hindering the passage of the narrow streets leading to this pjazza with umbrellas, tables, chairs and signs. Ensuring fast access to emergency services is a really a challenge. 

I take this opportunity to appeal to the Malta Heart Foundation to consider seriously the availability of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and local council to provide First Aid kits in this pjazza in case of an emergency.

Church services include other social and special religious events, such as funerals, marriages, and baptisms. The Basilica now has restricted vehicle access to these events because of limited passage space.

Consider holding a funeral service at the Basilica. The organisers have to request a permit against payment at the Rabat (Victoria) Local Council during office hours. The local council then requests by email the Lands Authority for the relevant approval while informing also by email the outlets in the pjazza about this permit. That is not all. 

This permission issued by the Lands Authority is just a permit on paper. This procedure is far from complete. The permit holder may then have to request the outlet owners, whether they kindly make way for the funeral hearse and accompanying vehicles to enter the pjazza

The same procedure, if not more complicated, applies to marriages, baptisms and other special liturgical functions. Such occasions normally concern the proud community of the St George’s Basilica, who will have to face this ordeal.

These outlets share the space in the square according to the permits allocated to them by the Lands Authority stipulating the number of tables or seating arrangements. But lack of permit compliance and monitoring can cause an escalating unmanageable situation. 

During the respective feasts of San George and Santa Marija, the situation is more clear-cut and defined. The outlets are familiar with the procedure for clearing the square during San George’s feast. A different and rather regretful scenario takes place on Santa Marija’s feast day. At about mid-day, the Leone Band Club holds a festive march in nearby streets and later passes through this pjazza according to decades old tradition. 

Then, the pjazza is clear of all chairs and other movable furniture; deserted, except for the band followers, while most of the outlets are closed. Protection barriers fence the front of the Church’s entrance accompanied by a heavy police presence. This is to prevent any unpleasant incidents that may occur in such a volatile situation.

Where does the buck stop? Who approves, monitors, and enforces the rules and policies applicable to access to the basilica?

This pjazza complements the church, which is losing its access to events and gatherings. The hands are suffocating the person they once complemented. 

No one speaks up. Passivity is the order of the day. The Basilica administration, the Local council, Lands and Tourism Authorities, and last but not least, the police should be more accountable! 

It may be appropriate for the Basilica administration and Church authorities to address this sensitive issue. After all, they hold these religious functions in their basilica. If they cannot control, or at least have ready access to, the Basilica, then indeed, they are under siege! 

Emmanuel J Galea

Freelance writer

 

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