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TOP NEWS | Sunday, 02 September 2007

Archbishop Cremona: your honeymoon is over!

anna mallia

Everybody loves Archbishop Cremona: his smile is contagious and he seems to be very approachable. His appointment gave a big boost to the Catholic Church in Malta and the people expect him to give a good shake up in order to rekindle the enthusiasm of Catholics within the Church.
The honeymoon period is now over and the Catholics in Malta want to see the other face of the Archbishop: that of a leader of the Catholic Church who is not afraid to introduce change and to represent the voice of the weak. I am very well aware how difficult it must be for the Archbishop to introduce the change that is needed in the administration of the Church. The administration is strong and it is very difficult to infiltrate. It most often dictates who shall be accommodated and who castigated, and the last person to know about this is usually the Archbishop.
The Archbishop is well aware of how the system works and it is now his responsibility to ensure and to send the message that he is at the helm. Interdiction of certain priests from celebrating mass, for no reason whatsoever, can no longer be tolerated. If there are sufficient grave reasons, yes; but otherwise no. Neither should part-time priests be tolerated any longer in the Church. The Church invests in the training and tuition of these people and they must be bound to do at least a number of years as full-time priests.
What is happening most of the time is that priesthood, for many, is an opening to many opportunities: they use priesthood for their selfish needs instead of for the needs of the others. How can we continue to tolerate parishes devoid of priests? How can we continue to tolerate priests who hastily conduct mass, without having time to meet with the parishioners? How can the parishes continue to be manned by only one person: the parish priest?
There is definitely a shortage of priests in Malta and the shortage is further compounded by the fact that most priests do not have priesthood as their priority: they make their career their focus in life, and the obligations of priesthood come as a part-time job or a hobby. I have never read anywhere that this problem is being addressed, although the problem is so acute that many parishioners feel disgusted at the depletion of services in their parish.
Gone are the times when the priest was there to listen to the joy and grief of the parishioners. Gone are the times when the priest knew what is taking place in his parish. Nowadays, Catholics find no such support within their Church and there is no human touch anymore. Religious services are conducted as a routine rather as a celebration of Christ and of Life, and most of the priests fail to see that their role is much more than the conduct of such services.
It is rather odd that when people were more religious, the priests were there full-time; and now, that the people have to cope with so much in life that they are being driven away from the Church, the priests are not there all the time. We boast that we have so many full-time priests helping the Catholics and the missions abroad, and we fail to realise that Malta is another mission that we cannot take for granted. We have many Church denominations in Malta and they all work full-time in their Church and there are Maltese who find comfort in these Churches, not because they are attracted by their teachings, but because they are attracted by their commitment to the mission.
Many families are heavily burdened with home loans so that the husband and wife have to work more and spend less time with their children. On the other hand, banks’ profits are widely increasing and the people expect the Church to voice their concern. They expect the Church to ask for the intervention of the government so that part of the profits will subsidise the interests of home loans.
The government is not willing to do this and the people feel that the Church ought to voice their concern. It is true that lately the Church stated that there ought to be a moratorium by the banks to those workers who were laid off, but this is not enough. There are situations where the Church must intervene with the government to protect its people and the family, which it has so much at heart.
Likewise, the people expect the Church to intervene in the savage gambling spree that is dominating this country at present. Only one priest, Fr Rene Camilleri, and not the Church, thought it fit to reply to the comments made by the Chairman of the Gaming Authority on how gambling in Malta has increased. The Church must speak loud and clear on certain issues such as gambling, drugs, alcohol, cancer patients (who have to take bank loans to pay for their treatment), juvenile delinquency, marriages of convenience, the family, and many other issues that are plaguing this country.
The Church must scold the Prime Minister for allowing gambling houses to open near schools and churches in all the villages and cities of Malta and Gozo; for sitting on the regulations regarding these gambling houses, thus making the regulations of casinos more stringent than those regulating these gambling houses.
Imagine: in a casino you can file a declaration authorising the casino to chuck you out for a period of time, so that you try to control your gambling addiction; in these gambling houses, you cannot do so because the regulations, which have been finalised ages ago by the Gaming Authority, still need the rubber stamp of Prime Minister Gonzi.
The people do not want the Church to be complacent: they want the Church to be a catalyst. They do not want the Church to be afraid of confrontation. Confrontation does not mean war: it means that the Church is there for its people. Fr Rene was right in his recent letter in a daily newspaper, in stating that the government must be honest and say whether it has the family or gambling at heart. Gambling and family are like oil and water: they can never mix.
In this day and age, when people are becoming more aloof towards politics and the politicians, the Church must shred the fear that it has in voicing the concerns of its people for fear of being accused of political bias. We obviously do not want a replica of the 1960s, but we do want the Church to have a more social conscience.
Now if the flock is big and the shepherds are few, it is high time for the church to train more laypersons to perform the role of listener and counsellor that was previously borne by the priest. The important thing is for the Catholics to feel that the Church is there for them, and not vice-versa.

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