On Wednesday, 20 June, myself, together with other ten priests, celebrated our fifteenth anniversary from our priestly ordination. For all of us, that special Friday, 20 June 2003, meant that we were ordained to serve Christ and his Church forever and wherever by obeying our respective superiors.
On June 20, 2003, we were six religious and five diocesan priests that were ordained. What a perfect mix! Indeed! And, this harmony, reminds me of the great witness that we can give when we, religious and diocesan priests, work together in our beloved Archdiocese of Malta to promote God’s Kingdom.
Thinking about this reality tears come into my eyes. Because, and in itself, it is the way of the Gospel. It is the way of the Church. It is what real pastoral activity is all about! Spontaneously come into my heart the words spoken by St. John Paul II when he visited Nigeria, Benin, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. In Enugu, Nigeria, on Saturday 13 February 1982, Pope Wojtyla, in his address to priests and seminarians of Nigeria, said:
“Right now you have many initiatives under way to make the Church more and more at home in your culture. I praise you for the harmony with which the Nigerian diocesan priests, the missionary priests and the Nigerian religious priests work together to advance the Kingdom of Christ”.
How powerful the phrase to make the Church more and more at home in your country is! After all, is this not what Malta really needs today? A Church that is more at home to our country? A Church that is more domestic? A Church that welcomes people? But, as Jesus said to his apostles, by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). And, if by disciples we are meaning the twelve, Jesus’ closest collaborators, his first priests, this quote is perfectly addressed to us, priests, both religious and diocesan. Gone are the days when everyone simply works for his community as if that community is the only expression of the one Church of Christ. The present situation is direly calling us, both religious and diocesan priests, to undertake the works of the apostolate together. Simply because we all belong to one Christ and one Church, obviously with all its different charisms which, in the end, mutually enrich God’s people and us.
Moreover, the long-standing witness of both diocesan and religious priests who lived a holy life and gave us great teachings regarding the one ministerial priesthood of Christ helps us more to make this happen in our archdiocese.
For instance, St. Alphonsus, the Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti and founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists), observed: “The end for which God has instituted the priesthood has been to appoint on earth public persons to watch over the honor of his divine majesty, and to procure the salvation of souls.” Another religious priest, an Italian Franciscan preacher and ascetic writer, said of the priesthood: “What tongue, human or angelic, may ever describe a power so immeasurable as that exercised by the simplest priest in Mass? Who could ever have imagined that the voice of man, which by nature hath not the power even to raise a straw from the ground, should obtain through grace a power so stupendous as to bring from Heaven to earth the Son of God?”
A great diocesan priest, by the name of St. John Mary Vianney, patron saint of parish priests, used to say: “The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus. When you see a priest, think of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Another diocesan priest and bishop, St. Ambrose said about priests: “He made them, the vicars of his love.”
In his Testament, St Francis’ wrote: “Afterward the Lord gave me and still gives me such faith in priests who live according to the manner of the holy Roman Church because of their order, that if they were to persecute me, I would still have recourse to them”. Animated by St. Francis’ spirit, I humbly appeal to our shepherds to work more on integrating the diocesan and religious priests because, as reality is constantly showing, it is the only way forward for the Church in Malta to be prophetic, pastoral and truly evangelical.