On March 11th, together with my companions in Malta I will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of my priesthood. Really and truly one must, like in all walks of life, utter with deep faith Thanks be to God!
Apart from the basic principles of the Gospel and church teaching, two thoughts inspired me during these years. One I inherited from our spiritual director at the seminary, Fr Joseph Bernard SJ, a person of an extraordinary intelligence and deep spirituality. He used to tell us: God will not condemn us because of the errors committed, but because of what we could have done, and omitted to do!
The other thought is of Karl Rahner: the most important Grace God can give you, is to die, still searching for the Truth! I do not mean to say that I lived these two values to the full, but I can state that they passed on to me a sense of urgency, and, even if gradually, helped me to avoid pre-conceived ideas and judgements.
Becoming a priest meant for me becoming a missionary. But circumstances forced me to remain in Malta for 17 years. And I do not regret it. I learnt a lot from my priest and lay friends. Let me name just one: Major John Micallef who revealed to me well in the beginning that he was responsible for the column Roamer in The Times of Malta – a secret which I carried with me till his death. He was instrumental of my participation in important reforms within and outside the Church. He had deep respect for the Church.
I am not a journalist, but still a seminarian, I had the courage – contrary to the seminary discipline – to send periodically a letter to the press in an anonymous manner. This tendency, later on, developed with a group of priests and laity, in the creation, of a page entitled Catholic Outlook and published in The Sunday Times of Malta, which turned out to be very popular and let me say, important.
During this period I had a very fruitful pastoral life at St Julian’s Parish, jointly with my close friend the late Fr Philip Demarco, when Mgr John Galea was parish priest. Really and truly a golden age! I accepted the invitation of Mgr Lawrence Gatt to help in the Seminary administration which included the Major Seminary, the Faculty of Theology which was then housed at tal-Virtu, and the Minor Seminary. It was a difficult time for Church Schools in general but we survived. In the midst of all this, after a four year wait I gained my visa to come to Brazil. I consulted Fr Bernard S.J. and with the blessing and kind words of Archbishop Mercieca, I was off to Brazil. Once again, I do not regret it.
I can summarise my 33 year long stay in Brazil in two fields: parish life in a city called Sarandi, whose pastoral activity was based on comunidades ecclesiais de base (church base communities). From a parish of about 40,000 people, Sarandi developed in four parishes comprising some 100,000 people. I became involved through the Land Pastoral Commission (CPT) with the Landless Peasants Movement (MST). Both institutions were instrumental, against all odds, to help some 8,000 families in the state of Parana, and about 250,000 families in the whole of Brazil to gain a farm. I am preparing a book on this achievement in my region.
During all this time I succeeded to have the best of relationship with my priest friends, diocesan and religious, as well as the Maltese Franciscan sisters. I was glad that when I went to Rondonia in the Amazon for two years to help serve in a twin parish belonging to my diocese Maringa, I met Brazilian Franciscan sisters who belonged to the Maltese Congregation. It has about 32 Brazilian members. The sacrifice of many Maltese sisters who served in this mission gathered a respectful harvest!
To conclude: if my companions in Malta had to put pen to paper, the life of extraordinarily dedicated vice parish priests, parish priests and others serving in challenging diocesan missions will come out. Fortunately all of us are still living.
Fr John Caruana
St Paul the Apostle Parish
Archdiocese of Maringa
Sarandi – Parana
+0055 44 99770 1901