This article first appeared in The Sunday Times of Malta on 5th January 2020.
We customarily usher in a new year filled with resolve to improve something about ourselves, from simple acts like walking more for the sake of our health and reaching out to loved ones, to more complex objectives concerning our personal or professional development.
Periods of introspection should not be shunned. On the contrary, they ought to be embraced with far more regularity than the annual tradition dictates or our good intentions risk suffering the same fate as our treasured narcissus flower, which wilts within weeks of achieving its wondrous winter bloom. Our reflections, however, should not be restricted to gaining benefit merely for ourselves. We have a duty to think of others, our community and our country. That is the very essence of being a responsible citizen.
One cannot escape the reality that Malta is caught in the eye of a storm. People I meet express a sense of bewilderment. They cannot understand what has happened and how we could possibly be in such turmoil. I must confess that I myself have had trouble comprehending our predicament, but I also have faith that hope’s ‘ethereal balm’ can heal this gaping wound in our present to enable us to forge a better future.
We need to move away from the ‘me’ mentality that has taken hold in some quarters that makes us feel we can ruin the environment for our personal gain, or claim for ourselves what belongs to everybody, or that everyone has a price…
We may not be able to turn back the clock, but we can reset it, provided we summon our collective goodwill and undertake a profound and sincere soul-searching exercise to rediscover the principles and values upon which our society has over many years been formed.
A democracy like ours cannot function without respect for truth and justice – in practice as well as in theory – at its core. Truth requires the relevant authorities being given the freedom and resources they need to ascertain all facts about wrongdoing, without exception; while justice demands that accountability applies to all, irrespective of position or title. These are fundamental pillars, but they ring hollow unless supported by institutions that operate effectively and which command the confidence of the people. Good governance is not a label of convenience; it is the indispensable fulcrum of our Republic, of our State.
Nor can a democratic country function effectively unless its people display tolerance and respect for one another. The fundraising marathon at Dar tal-Providenza on New Year’s Day served as a glowing example of how us Maltese can come together when called upon for a common cause, and I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave what they could to support this worthy cause. But solidarity extends to all aspects of our lives. The spirit of giving we display at Christmas – spreading charity and goodwill to all men and women – should not be viewed as a hiatus or ceasefire in the midst of a war of attrition between one side and another; it must form part of our daily existence.
The Holy Father provided us with a timely reminder during the Christmas Eve vigil at St Peter’s Basilica that God does not love us because we think and act the right way. “He loves you, plain and simple,” Pope Francis said. “His love is unconditional; it does not depend on you… You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you… Let us receive the gift that is Jesus, in order then to become gift like Jesus. It is the best way to change the world.”
That is why we, as the bishops we profess to be, called for unity during this saddening period of strife – because we believe our country needs a calm sense of purpose if we are to rebuild our common home together.
Achieving this objective requires all of us also to reflect upon our individual behaviour. We need to move away from the ‘me’ mentality that has taken hold in some quarters that makes us feel we can ruin the environment for our personal gain, or claim for ourselves what belongs to everybody, or that everyone has a price; we must combat the cancer of corruption, which the Pope said shatters all good and beautiful ideals, and any semblance of impunity. And we should instead ask ourselves, in a genuine spirit of solidarity and mercy, ‘What can I do to be of service to my country?’ ‘What can I contribute?’ ‘What can I give?’
While we are bound to have divergent opinions, we are ultimately one nation and will only make our situation better if we move forward as one nation, irrespective of our differences, promoting peace and justice together.
✠ Charles J. Scicluna
Archbishop of Malta