The news that Mgr Mario Grech, the former Gozo Bishop, will be elevated to the Cardinal rank, brought an explosion of joy. In fact, social media was practically inundated with wishes to His Eminence for this jubilant announcement.President George Vella, as the leader of the state, immediately went online and extolled Mgr Grech qualities of knowledge, determination as well as experience. He tweeted: Most welcome news. HE Bishop Mario Grech has been elevated to the College of Cardinals. On behalf of all Maltese, and fellow Gozitans, I wish His Eminence all the best for the future. May he employ his vast knowledge, determination, and experience as he always did in the past. On their behalf, the brother bishops of His Eminence Mario Grech, in other words the Archbishop of Malta Mgr Charles J. Scicluna, the Bishop of Gozo Mgr Anton Teuma and the Auxiliary bishop of Malta Mgr Joseph Galea-Curmi, warmly congratulated Cardinal-elect Mario Grech whilst they promised him their prayers so that he could continue to serve the Universal Church according to God’s will.
This impressive deluge of joy at the election of Mgr Mario Grech as Cardinal is strongly supported by valid reasons. No one can ever doubt the magnificent pastoral talents that Our Lord has endowed with this great clergyman. Mgr Grech’s vast knowledge is undisputed. Suffice to read his pastoral letters to get a glimpse of the immense intellectual heritage this erudite servant of God has garnered so far throughout his life. In his famous pastoral letter of May 6 2020, entitled Pastoral Care after the Pandemic, Mgr Grech, as the apostolic vicar of the Gozo diocese but still at its helm, affirmed that the current epochal situation, dominated as it by covid-19, demands from us a new vision for the Church, as Pope Francis is clearly indicating. To support his stance Mgr Grech directly quoted the famous orthodox theologian Paul Nikolaevich Evdokimov (1901-1970), who said about the Church: “We know where the Church is, but we do not know where the Church is not present”.
I am fully confident that Mgr Grech intellectual skills, which open him even to other highly Christian traditions as Vatican II’s ecumenical approach urgently requests from Church’s pastors’ to do, and as has been the case of the quote I have just alluded to by the eminent theologian Evdokimov, can be a tool in God’s hands to make his Church much more visible in places where she seems to be incredibly absent. Starting, of course, from her suffering people. With his usual pastoral closeness Mgr Grech gives an ample witness of what does it mean to be really a pastor according to God’s heart by following closely Pope Francis’ pastoral model which he is clearly indicating for the Church to follow. Let us appreciate Mgr Grech’s motivating example of walking with the persons God made him meet as he personally records in his pastoral letter he wrote for Lent 2007:
Sometimes this desire for God remains hidden. In such a case, the person may need some assistance to recognize the desire and to transform the yearning for the Father into a decision to return to the Father. An example of this is the labourer I encountered who assisted his coworker to get out of a corrupt system in his line of work. Another example is that of a physician I know who lost work because he refused to write false sick leave certificates. One mother continues to fast until her son leads a good life away from the bad influence of his group. I prayed with a couple who are seeking illumination from God about their particular situation of their civil divorce and remarriage.
How beautiful and healing it is when a bishop finds the time to meet with his flock personally, gives them time and journeys with them! Is this not the kind of pastors the Church urgently needs? Pastors who are humble and courageous enough to walk side by side Christ as present in his sheep? Can not such an example make you spontaneously reminisce what Christ’s requests from his servants to behave when pasturing his flock when he said: I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14)?
A final note regarding His Eminence Cardinal Grech is his humility. In November 2017 he decided to turn down invitations to State dinners simply because he did not see it was his place to be in circles of power. On that occasion this bold, humble and forward looking prelate squarely admitted: I feel that nowadays it is not my place to attend State dinners. I’m not saying this with disrespect towards the highest civil authorities, but so that the Bishop ministry does not continue to be associated with particular circles of power. This reflection comes from the heart. It is the weight of the responsibility that I carry as a Bishop of this Church that prompts me to speak this way. It is not the Church that is here for us, but we are here for the Church.
Mario Grech’s presence in Rome, as a Cardinal, is surely a source of great encouragement to Pope Francis himself as well as a rejuvenating example to us, pastors and flock, to keep following Christ with courage, humility and generous service!
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap